Ben Gvir chief of staff hands his pistol to man in street, prompting complaints

Chanamel Dorfman caught on video discussing state-issued weapon with man, letting him hold it; police say won’t probe matter

Screen capture from video of National Security Ministry chief of staff Chanamel Dorfman, left, handing his state-issued pistol to a man in the street, September 29, 2023. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of National Security Ministry chief of staff Chanamel Dorfman, left, handing his state-issued pistol to a man in the street, September 29, 2023. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Two complaints were filed with police against National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s chief of staff after a video emerged Sunday of the aide handing his state-issued pistol to a man in the street who asked to handle the weapon.

The Israel Police said it was not planning to open a probe into Chanamel Dorfman’s behavior, with a source telling Haaretz that there is too much fear of the ultranationlist Ben Gvir, whose ministry oversees the force. Dorfman has a history of far-right settler activism that in the past saw him slapped with restraining orders and led the Shin Bet security service to describe him as a danger to society.

The gun incident happened on Friday at a street kiosk operated by Dorfman to sell the Four Species, a collection of plants used ritually during the Sukkot holiday, which began that evening. Dorfman has apparently for years been manning the kiosk annually ahead of the holiday.

A person at the kiosk was filming activities as customers arrived to purchase items from workers manning the kiosk. Dorfman was also there to pitch in with the sales. According to Haaretz, which first published the video, the kiosk itself was problematic as workers did not issue receipts unless specifically asked to do so, and there may have been conflict of interest violations as he is a state employee. Dorfman himself was seen taking payments via credit card, but also cash that he simply slipped into his pocket.

In the video, a customer asked Dorfman about the weight of his pistol and requested to feel the weapon for himself. Dorfman then pulled out the gun and handed it across the serving table to the man on the other side. There was no indication that Dorfman was acquainted with the man.

Dorfman also discussed the gun, explaining that it was issued to him by an organization, the number of bullets held in the magazine, and the type of ammunition it was loaded with. He also estimated that the pistol was worth about NIS 3,000 ($786). After holding the pistol for a few seconds, the unidentified man handed it back.

By law, a gun holder is prohibited from handing their weapon to anyone else without first confirming that the second person also has a valid license for the same type of weapon. The maximum sentence for violating the law is six months in prison.

In a response to the newspaper, Dorfman focused on the legality of the kiosk, saying, “Contrary to what has been claimed, all the necessary approvals were received from both the Jerusalem Municipality and the Civil Service Commission, and the revenues are recorded and reported to the authorities.”

The statement made no reference to the gun incident.

A senior official in the National Security Ministry, who asked not to be identified, told Haaretz that police should open a probe and confiscate Dorfman’s gun.

The incident, said the official, “could have ended in disaster. It is clear to anyone who has a weapon that it is forbidden to take out a pistol from the holster unless it is needed or for some other security need.”

Otzma Yehudit party chief Itamar Ben Gvir (L) speaks with his chief of staff Chanamel Dorfman during a Knesset special committee to discuss his proposed Police Ordinance changes, December 18, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The official noted that the man could have run off with Dorfman’s pistol or opened fire with it. In addition, an armed bystander, seeing the pistol being pulled out, may have thought it was someone about to carry out an attack and himself opened fire at the suspected gunman, he said.

“It is serious, criminal, and childish behavior that requires the most serious attention, even more so when we are talking about the chief of staff of the minister who is responsible for enforcing the law.”

The Israel Police said in a statement that it was not opening an investigation into the incident. An anonymous police source told Haaretz that it is because “they are simply afraid of Ben Gvir.”

The National Security Ministry said in a statement that the “matter will be checked by the relevant authorities.”

Ben Gvir has also faced investigation over weapons issues. Last week, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara closed a criminal probe into the minister for pulling out a pistol during an altercation with Arab security guards at a Tel Aviv parking lot nearly two years ago.

Baharav-Miara said she saw little chance of convicting Ben Gvir given the results of an investigation into the incident.

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