Ben Gvir asks to meet with AG amid push to prevent display of Palestinian flags

Gali Baharav-Miara’s office says she must first hear opinion of political leaders before considering far-right police minister’s demand to change enforcement policy

A protester holds a Palestinian flag in Tel Aviv at a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government, January 7, 2023. (AP Photo/ Tsafrir Abayov)
A protester holds a Palestinian flag in Tel Aviv at a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government, January 7, 2023. (AP Photo/ Tsafrir Abayov)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir on Wednesday asked to meet with Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara regarding his demand that police enforce a blanket ban on displaying the Palestinian flag.

Baharav-Miara’s office confirmed receiving a letter from Ben Gvir on the matter. It said she must first hear the stance of political leaders before considering any change to the current enforcement policy.

Israeli law permits the display of Palestinian flags, though police have wide leeway to take action to maintain public order and regularly remove them from public spaces and confiscate the flags from those waving them.

After a terror convict waved a Palestinian flag after his release from prison last week, Ben Gvir said he instructed police as of Sunday to tear down any Palestinian flags flown publicly, a measure liable to increase friction between police and Arab Israelis who identify with the Palestinian national struggle.

However, police are said to have disregarded his directive and to have told him there was no legal basis to confiscate the flags as long as no incitement was taking place.

Ben Gvir, who heads the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, has been granted unprecedented control over police policy, including aspects hitherto set by the commissioner.

Composite photo: Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir (L) 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)

Ben Gvir’s letter on Wednesday to Baharav-Miara came ahead of planned anti-government protests on Saturday. A number of demonstrators carried Palestinian flags during similar rallies last weekend.

“The freedom to demonstrate is a foundational principle in democracy and is dear to all of us,” he wrote in the letter, according to the Walla news site. “My position is that it is important for the police to act with equality toward the demonstrators, whether ultra-Orthodox or Arab, left-wing or right-wing, religious or secular.”

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas, whose Islamist party was part of the last coalition, on Tuesday urged Arab Israelis not to display Palestinian flags at the coming protests to avoid provoking clashes with police.

There are no clear rules on when Palestinian flags are permitted to be displayed, and instructions from the attorney general are to remove them only when “there is a concern at the level of a high probability that waving the flag will lead to serious disruption of the public peace,” according to a May report in Haaretz.

In 2021, Ben Gvir’s predecessor Omer Barlev asked the police commissioner to limit the confiscation of flags at public events.

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