Police stop extreme-right activist from reaching Arab town

Israel Materials 10 February 2009 11:29 (UTC +04:00)

Israeli police stopped an extreme-right Jewish activist from reaching an Arab town in northern Israel Tuesday, where he was to have headed a polling station, police said, dpa reported.

Baruch Marzel, of the ultra-nationalist, pro-settler National Union, was arrested several junctions before the town and told he would not be allowed to enter because he "posed a threat to public peace" and could "endanger his life," Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said.

Marzel had been on the road to Umm el-Fahm, the largest town in northern Israel, where he had insisted on being the chairman of the Central Elections Commission (CEC) team supervising one of the town's polling stations.

Israeli authorities had condemned his insistence on choosing a polling station in an Arab town as a provocation, but the CEC would not disqualify him, saying that could create a dangerous legal precedent harming Israeli democracy.

Marzel, a former leader of the extremist Kach movement outlawed by Israel in 1994 as a terrorist group, earlier claimed on Israel Radio he wanted to be present at a polling station in an Arab town to "make sure" no ballots of his current National Union party would be "stolen."

Local leaders had earlier vowed they would not allow Marzel, whom they called a racist and a fascist, to enter their town. Dozens of residents gathered at the entrance to Umm el-Fahm, awaiting his planned arrival. Hundreds of Israeli police, some in uniform and some undercover, had deployed around and in the town since midnight, to prevent any escalation.

Rosenfeld told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa the extreme-right activist had been prevented entry to avoid unrest and allow the elections in Umm el-Fahm to take place quietly.

He said police were on the highest level of alert, level D, throughout Israel, both to prevent possible militant attacks and to allow "the public to exercise their right to vote."

Some 6,000 police were on duty throughout the country, the maximum deployment, he said.