JERUSALEM (Reuters) – President Isaac Herzog appealed to Israeli politicians on Tuesday to “lower the temperature” amid confrontional exchanges between the new hardline nationalist coalition government and the centre-left opposition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has returned to power after 12 years as premier until 2021, heads a bloc composed of his conservative Likud party and hard-right and religious parties who secured a clear victory in the November elections.

His inclusion of the Religious Zionism and Jewish Power parties has stirred concern at home and abroad given their leaders’ calls for annexing occupied land that Palestinians seek for a state, as well as past agitation against Israel’s justice system, the country’s Arab minority and LGBTQ rights.

“This is a sensitive and explosive time in Israeli public life…I appeal to you, elected representatives and citizens from across the public and political spectrum: Exercise restraint and act responsibly. We need to calm things down and lower the temperature,” Herzog said in a Twitter post.

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He spoke shortly after Jewish Power parliamentary deputy Zvika Fogel said that four leading members of the opposition, including its centrist leader and former premier Yair Lapid, “are the most dangerous people there are at this moment.

“They are calling for war,” Fogel said in an interview with public media. “If they were calling for protests, I would give them every right to protest but they are speaking in terms that I am the enemy – they are speaking in terms of war.”

“For me that’s treason against the state…, and yes, that’s grounds for imprisonment,” he added.

Israeli police said they had arrested a motorist for endangering a group of demonstrators – who Lapid identified as supporters of his party – in the southern city of Beersheba by driving onto the sidewalk and halting right in front of them.

In response, Lapid said in a Twitter post: “The government’s incitement will end in bloodshed.” In a subsequent comment on Fogel’s remarks, he tweeted: “This is how democracy implodes.”

Benny Gantz, another senior opposition figure and a former defence minister, urged Netanyahu to rein in his far-right coalition partners.

“I call on you to condemn the attack on the demonstrators and the harsh statements and act to bridge the divisions in the nation and not to deepen them,” Gantz said.

Netanyahu later appeared to take issue with Fogel’s remarks while also criticising opposition broadsides against the new government, saying demonising one’s opponents was unacceptable in a democracy.

(Reporting by Emily Rose; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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