Ben Gvir says response proves need for judicial overhaul

AG pans law expanding Ben Gvir’s authority over police but doesn’t recommend repeal

Gali Baharav-Miara says coalition legislation may lead to politicization of law enforcement and cause harm to personal liberties, but stops short of suggesting law be stricken down

Composite photo: Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir, left, during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 21, 2022; Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks at Tel Aviv University on September 28, 2022. (Flash90)
Composite photo: Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir, left, during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 21, 2022; Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks at Tel Aviv University on September 28, 2022. (Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said Wednesday that a law passed by the coalition expanding far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s authority over the Israel Police risked politicizing law enforcement and harming personal liberties, but she stopped short of recommending that the High Court of Justice scrap the legislation.

“The amendment to the law refers to the minister’s powers in a vague manner and doesn’t establish checks and balances that would ensure the professional independence of the police. There is a serious concern about extraneous influence over the use of police force and the politicization of the police,” Baharav-Miara wrote in her official response to a High Court petition against the December legislation that granted Ben Gvir unprecedented control over law enforcement as part of the new National Security Ministry, formerly the Public Security Ministry.

Baharav-Miara maintained that the legislation was passed too quickly, in a manner that was not balanced and lacks a specification that police will operate without any outside political influences.

But while the attorney general recommended that the law be clarified, she said it did not warrant being overturned and recommended that the High Court reject the petition against the legislation, so long as it is interpreted in a way that rejects the politicization of the police force.

Petitions against the coalition legislation were filed at the beginning of the year by several civil society groups, including the Movement for Quality Government in Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which argued that giving Ben Gvir control over “police policy and the general principles of its activity unconstitutionally infringes on the freedom of protest and freedom of expression and subordinates control over the force to a political entity.”

Ben Gvir and Baharav-Miara have clashed repeatedly since late 2022, with the minister making several public calls for the attorney general to be fired.

In December, she called on the High Court of Justice to reject what she called a “premature” petition by the Tag Meir coexistence organization to strike down Ben Gvir’s appointment as national security minister.

In March, Baharav-Miara supported the High Court ruling which said that Ben Gvir may not issue operational orders to police forces regarding how they manage demonstrations and the use of force during anti-judicial overhaul protests.

This came after the attorney-general blocked a controversial move by Ben Gvir to remove the Tel Aviv District Police Commander Amichai Eshed from his position, for which she was chastised by the minister. She told the court that Ben Gvir may have “crossed the line” in his interventions with police affairs and operational matters and must refrain from giving operational instructions to the police “under the guise of alleged policy directives.”

Ben Gvir began demanding that Baharav-Miara allow him to secure private counsel, or represent himself, in current legal proceedings against him in his role as minister in the High Court. He argued that positions she has taken against legislation advanced by his far-right Otzma Yehudit party showed he could not rely on her to faithfully represent him in court. His calls for her ouster increased.

Responding to Baharav-Miara’s legal opinion on Wednesday, Ben Gvir accused the attorney general of trying to strip the coalition’s legislation of any meaning regarding his authority over the police.

“It clearly demonstrates how much a deep and thorough reform is needed in the judicial system, especially regarding the role of attorney general,” he said.

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