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Netanyahu Removes Bulletproof Vest

January 6, 1999 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tossed his bulletproof jacket to the floor _ and with it, some Israelis said, caution to the wind.

Netanyahu was sharply criticized Wednesday for making a show of stripping off his protective jacket at a meeting of his Likud Party the night before.

The Shin Bet security service has long advised prime ministers to wear the heavy protective vest at public events.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin _ who rejected the vests as uncomfortable _ was assassinated at a peace rally in 1995. The bullets pierced his torso.

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Netanyahu’s controversial action Tuesday came after he announced that he had received a note while speaking in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Ata.

``I got a message,″ Netanyahu told the audience. ``Open the coat _ it’s silly.″

He then slowly ripped open the Velcro fastenings, to cheers from the crowd _ then paused.

``I have a question. Is there someone here who is not a Likud member? Put up your hand. No one?″ Then he dropped the coat to the floor.

The move reportedly angered the Shin Bet.

``Netanyahu has exposed and mocked security procedures, and defined half of the people as threatening his life,″ the agency was quoted by Channel Two television as saying.

Rabin’s widow, Leah, told Israel TV she found the action offensive.

``If, on that long night Yitzhak had worn a bulletproof jacket, all the chances are that he would be with us today,″ she said.

Mrs. Rabin _ who has accused Netanyahu of inciting the radical right in Israel against Rabin _ also rejected the implication that the dovish opposition posed a threat.

``Even if there were leffftisssts _ leffftisssts,″ she said, mocking Netanyahu’s own accusatory pronunciation of the word, ``he would not have been in danger.″

Netanyahu rejected the criticism.

``When Ronald Reagan was shot and brought to the emergency room and asked the doctors if they were Republicans, the Democrats didn’t complain,″ said his spokesman, Aviv Bushinsky.

The prime minister has the right to exercise his judgment on security matters, Bushinsky said.