'There's anarchy here,' Amsalem says

Amsalem calls to arrest anti-overhaul protest leaders, oust AG and probe ex-PM Barak

Firebrand minister says AG ‘not worthy’ of role, should have quit long ago, claims ruling Likud can’t govern due to her interference

Likud MK David Amsalem (left) reacts during a discussion and a vote on the state budget at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: Likud MK David Amsalem (left) reacts during a discussion and a vote on the state budget at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem called Saturday for the arrest of anti-judicial overhaul protest leaders, the probing of former prime minister Ehud Barak and the ousting of Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara.

Amsalem, a firebrand Likud lawmaker who also serves as a minister in the Justice Ministry and as the minister in charge of liaising between the government and the Knesset, complained during a Channel 12 interview that protest leaders have caused “mass disturbances” in the country for the past six months while Tel Aviv district police chief Amichai Eshed refused to address the issue.

Eshed’s announcement of his resignation this week, saying he was to be transferred from the role due to politicians’ distaste for his soft approach toward demonstrators, led to a round of spontaneous mass protests and the blocking of the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv for several hours.

“There’s no intelligence, no arrest on the nights [of the protests], no investigations of [former Supreme Court chief justice] Aharon Barak or Ehud Barak. You’re hurting? Protest — just like people have since the establishment of the state. But why riot? It’s lawlessness,” he said, adding: “Ehud Barak, in my opinion, should have been in the interrogation room some time ago.

“There isn’t a person in the country who doesn’t think that, including himself. But he knows nobody will do it because he is above the law,” Amsalem claimed.

On Thursday, Barak, who has urged “nonviolent civil disobedience” to try to block the coalition’s Judicial overhaul, said in a television interview that pilots and some other elite soldiers should refuse to continue to serve in the IDF if a bill currently being advanced by the coalition becomes law. Set for its first reading on Monday, the bill would prevent the judiciary from using the “reasonableness” doctrine to review decisions made by the cabinet, government ministers and unspecified other elected officials.

According to a report last month, a special task force was set to be established to investigate whether Barak and other protest leaders can be charged with incitement for comments urging anti-government protests.

File: Israelis block the Ayalon Highway during a protest against the Israeli government’s planned judicial overhaul and in response to the removal of Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2023 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

“There is no peace in disorder. There’s anarchy here. There’s a challenge to the rule of law here, so the protesters must be dispersed,” Amsalem said, calling for a tougher hand against demonstrators.

The minister also lashed out at Baharav-Miara, saying that she should have left the position as soon as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu established a new government on December 29.

“She isn’t worthy of the position and she never was,” Amsalem said. “I think that if she had a little self-respect, she would have returned the keys and went home.”

The attorney general has butted heads with ministers on several issues. Recently, Netanyahu, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, and National Security Itamar Ben Gvir berated Baharav-Miara and other top law enforcement officials for their handling of the ongoing anti-overhaul protests.

Amsalem justified a proposal to limit the powers of government legal advisers, claiming that since the establishment of the state, the right-wing Likud party has not been allowed to govern when elected.

“The Likud is unable to appoint [ministry] officials and can’t make decisions. I have tried to appoint a director-general for three and a half months, but [Deputy Attorney General] Gil Limon won’t let me,” he said, referring to difficulties faced by Amsalem in appointing Moshe Swissa to the top role in the Regional Cooperation Ministry, due to past disciplinary offenses.

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

“There aren’t any officials that have right-wing views. There are no Likudniks. More than half the country are Likudniks,” he charged, promoting a common argument from government members that the country’s bureaucrats aren’t representative of the right-wing public. Half the country did not vote for Likud though. The party won 23 percent of the vote last election.

Amsalem was also asked what prepared him to be appointed to head the Israel Atomic Energy Commission.

“It has nothing to do with training. Just like [Yair] Lapid was not trained to be prime minister and [Naftali] Bennett was not trained to be defense minister, I am no less prepared than they were,” he said.

“You don’t need Einstein. Just like there is a health minister who is not trained in health, believe me, I will invest time in learning,” he said.

Amsalem has been a staunch backer of the government’s planned drastic overhaul of the judiciary. In April he called for the indictment of Supreme Court President Esther Hayut over her opposition to the contentious plan, while also urging investigations against the leaders of the protests movement.

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