AG asks court to reject ‘premature’ suit against Ben Gvir’s appointment as minister

Gali Baharav-Miara tells High Court of Justice that because government not yet sworn in, petition deals with a theoretical and should therefore be thrown out

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Otzma Yehudit party chief MK Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)
Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Otzma Yehudit party chief MK Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara on Wednesday asked the High Court of Justice to reject what she called a “premature” petition against the appointment of far-right Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir as national security minister.

The petition alleged the far-right lawmaker was unqualified to be appointed as minister in charge of the police due to his repeated involvement in efforts to disturb the peace, as well as having past criminal indictments against him.

Baharav-Miara said that because Ben Gvir has not yet taken office, the petition addressed a theoretical.

“The petition should be rejected outright since it is premature,” Baharav-Miara wrote. “The discussion is theoretical if it takes place before ministers are appointed or begin in their roles.”

Both Ben Gvir and incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu were ordered by the court on Monday to respond to the petition, which was submitted by organizations and individuals calling for tolerance.

“There is no place for judicial intervention in light of the discretion granted to the prime minister in appointing ministers in his government,” Netanyahu’s lawyers wrote in response, according to the Ynet news site.

Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara speaks during a conference at the Haifa University, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Under its deal with Netanyahu’s Likud party, the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction has secured an agreement to slice off the Border Police from the Israel Police. The Border Police will subsequently answer to the national security minister directly, giving Ben Gvir control over a force that carries out sensitive operations in the West Bank, is in charge of quelling Palestinian riots and protests, and is responsible for policing demonstrations within Israel as well.

Additionally, the Knesset on Wednesday passed a law cementing broad political control over the Israel Police, stating that the government has “authority” over the force. It places Ben Gvir, as incoming national security minister, “in charge of” the force on behalf of the government.

The law explicitly grants Ben Gvir the authority to direct general police policy and to outline “general principles for action.” He can also influence policy relating to investigations, after consulting with the police commissioner and hearing the attorney general’s opinion.

The suit filed at the High Court cited the Otzma Yehudit leader’s role in arranging provocative demonstrations in mixed Jewish-Arab cities in May 2021, when such areas were beset by nearly unprecedented violence along ethnic lines.

Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of a far-right party, stands with police guarding a Palestinian home claimed by right-wing Jews in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, May 6, 2021 (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

It also noted his past convictions for incitement to racism and supporting a terror organization, as well as charges of disturbing the peace and interfering with a police officer while performing his duty.

Gadi Gvaryahu, director of the Tag Meir organization which was part of the suit, said he would not have a problem seeing Ben Gvir in a different ministerial position that does not pose a conflict of interest.

“A person who has spent his entire adult life violating the public order, whom the current police commissioner blamed for nearly instigating a Jewish intifada, cannot be nominated to be in charge of public order in the State of Israel,” he told the Kan public broadcaster.

In May 2021 during Israel’s conflict with Gaza, police chief Kobi Shabtai reportedly blamed Ben Gvir for the deadly riots in mixed Jewish-Arab cities, citing the extremist lawmaker’s decision to set up an ad hoc office in the volatile East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which sparked clashes with Palestinian residents shortly before widespread rioting broke out.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir seen with head of the racist Lehava organization Bentzi Gopstein in a protest tent amid high tensions in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on May 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The High Court earlier this week also rejected a petition filed by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel that demanded that the court issue a temporary injunction halting the swearing-in of Netanyahu’s government on Thursday over Shas leader Aryeh Deri’s expected nomination as a minister.

Early this year, Deri, who was convicted of bribery during his first stint as interior minister in the late 1990s, was handed a second conviction after agreeing to a plea deal on tax offenses. He resigned from the Knesset in order to dodge a designation of “moral turpitude,” which would have barred him from returning to public office for seven years. The plea deal saw Deri receive a lenient sentence after the judge was given to understand that he intended to step down from politics altogether.

A bill letting Deri take up his planned posts as interior and health minister despite his recent suspended sentence for tax fraud was passed by the Knesset on Tuesday. Deri is also slated to become finance minister in two years.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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