- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

JERUSALEM — With Israel mired in a wave of near-daily Palestinian attacks, hard-line Israeli politicians and activists are stepping up the pressure on dovish groups that are critical of government policies- drawing accusations of a nationalist witch hunt that risks turning violent.

In recent weeks, lawmakers have circulated bills to curtail the activities of non-government organizations, while a rival hard-line activist group has launched an even fiercer campaign that accuses opponents of being spies and foreign agents. Even the country’s president, a member of the ruling Likud party, has come under fire, with nationalists accusing him of coddling hostile groups.

The climate is testing Israel’s democratic ideals at a time when the country is feeling pressured at home by public anger over the continuing violence and abroad by growing international criticism of its policies toward the Palestinians. This sense of frustration and isolation is fueling what some say is a siege mentality that perceives opposition activists as the enemy.

“They are using the fear of the street to manipulate more and more hateful politics … against everyone who has the courage to stand up and say we are going in the wrong direction,” said Ishai Menuchin, director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, a group that has called for investigating possible war crimes by the Israeli military.

Mr. Menuchin is one of four human-rights activists singled out in a video and newspaper ad published this week by the hawkish non-governmental group Im Tirtzu, which accuses the activists of being foreign agents and undermining the country because their groups receive foreign funding.

“While we are fighting terrorism, they are fighting us,” a voice intones in the video on Facebook and YouTube, as photos of the activists are shown. Viewers are then urged to support legislation banning their groups. Mr. Menuchin said he filed an incitement complaint with police but the video has not been taken down.

Three months of violence has helped fuel such sentiments. Hawkish Israelis accuse their dovish opponents of posing a threat by siding with the Palestinians, inviting what they see as deep-rooted and unwarranted hatred for the country.

Since mid-September, 19 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks, mostly stabbings, while at least 115 Palestinians have died by Israeli fire in the same period, 78 of them assailants, according to Israel. The rest were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces.

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