Attorney general said to oppose bill to expand Ben Gvir’s authority over police

Incoming coalition will likely pass legislation anyways, but Gali Baharav-Miara is warning that she won’t defend it when it’s challenged in the High Court of Justice

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 will oppose legislation that the incoming coalition is seeking to pass to grant extremist Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir unprecedented authority over the police force as national security minister, Hebrew media reported Friday.

While Baharav-Miara recognizes that the coalition presumed prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to finalize in the coming weeks will likely pass the legislation anyways, she will not defend the law if and when it is challenged in the High Court of Justice, several Hebrew media outlets reported without citing sources, indicating that the story was likely leaked by Baharav-Miara’s office.

Ben Gvir is set to become national security minister in the new government — a newly created role replacing that of public security minister — which will give him oversight of police. The new ministry that he’ll head will also control the Border Police force in the West Bank, which currently answers to the military.

In addition, Ben Gvir submitted a bill on Thursday that aims to radically redefine the relationship between police and politician. It dictates that it is the minister who will set policy, relegating the police commissioner to the role of administrator charged with carrying out said policy. Currently, the commissioner sets policy in consultation with the minister, and the shift will seemingly give Ben Gvir, an oft-convicted far-right activist, wide control over a police force he has long been at odds with.

It also provides the minister broad powers to decide which issues do or do not merit tougher investigation and enforcement.

Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir (L) and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai attend the Bat Mitzah of Ben Gvir’s daughter, in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, December 8, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

The bill stipulates that the minister will not be able to dictate the opening or closing of specific probes, such as investigations into politicians suspected of wrongdoing. However, the minister will be authorized to set general policy on investigations and the handling of cases.

“The foundational principle in a modern democracy is that the political leadership — meaning elected representatives — delineates and directs policy, and the executive leadership implements this policy,” an explanatory text attached to the bill says.

The Friday Hebrew media reports said that Baharav-Miara opposes the bill’s effort to subordinate the police chief to the national security minister.

She also rejects the involvement that Ben Gvir seeks in police investigations, arguing that such probes need to be free from political interference and that law enforcement must remain independent.

Another issue the attorney general has raised with the legislation is that it seeks to treat the national police force like the IDF by making the former subordinate to a minister. While this is accepted in the case of the IDF, which is to a degree subordinate to the defense minister; this is because the military fights Israel’s external enemies, whereas the police are supposed to only be interacting with citizens. Therefore, the bar for the involvement of a minister in the police force’s operations is higher.

Channel 12 also noted that a minister with authority over police investigations would mean the officers conducting them would not dare investigate Ben Gvir or other government members against his will. This problematic atmosphere already exists to a degree, with the network noting that many of the senior officers involved in the Netanyahu corruption investigations have either quit or been promoted.

Amid growing frustration with the incoming coalition’s plans to alter the police’s relationship with political officials, an anonymous user posted a “death notice” for the Israel Police force in a WhatsApp group for senior officers on Friday.

Hebrew media sites were also quoting anonymous police sources who were discontent with what they perceived as police commissioner Kobi Shabtai’s willingness to go along with Ben Gvir’s reforms.

A disciple of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, Ben Gvir kept a picture of the perpetrator of the 1994 Tomb of the Patriarchs massacre on his wall until he began to rise in national politics. He was convicted in 2007 of the crimes of support for a terrorist organization and incitement to racism, though he insists he has moderated in recent years.

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