JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli President Isaac Herzog urged an intensely divided public to keep its cool ahead of the country's parliamentary election, warning that heated tempers could easily spin out of control.
Israelis head to the polls on Nov. 1 for an unprecedented fifth election in four years. There is no guarantee the vote will break the deadlock between former premier Benjamin Netanyahu and bitter rivals who unseated him last year.
"Violence is on the rise. Verbal violence — accusations of treason, comparisons to the Nazis, threats and curses — in the public sphere and on social media," Herzog said in a speech on Wednesday evening ahead of the Yom Kippur holiday next week, when Jews traditionally repent for their wrongdoings.
"We see insults turning into physical violence. Into curled fists, into assaults, into bloodshed," he said.
Herzog, whose role is largely ceremonial, did not point fingers at anyone in particular. But there have been reports in recent weeks of scuffles at demonstrations and one member of Netanyahu's Likud party was suspended for assaulting a protestor.
Herzog also alluded to the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an ultra-nationalist Jew opposed to his peace moves with the Palestinians.
"One cannot avoid the disturbing thought: what’s next? Knives? Gunfire? Fatalities? God forbid. After all, we have already been through this story before, and this time we must not hold back or bite our tongues," he said.
"Before your next nasty post, before your next hate-filled tweet or reply, before fighting, attacking, and hitting — stop. Don't come along later seeking forgiveness or apologising — stop now. Before it's too late."
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch)