Ben Gvir defends aide who was panned for handing pistol to another man

Police minister denies speculation Chanamel Dorfman didn’t report earnings from Four Species kiosk, where he was filmed briefly handing over weapon to a seeming stranger

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)
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)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir defended his chief of staff, Chanamel Dorfman, on Wednesday, days after Dorfman was filmed briefly handing over his state-issued pistol for examination by a stranger in public, an ostensibly illegal act.

“He made a mistake and got excited. Chanamel knows my policy, which is to release more and more weapons to the public in order for them to defend themselves,” Ben Gvir told Kan public radio.

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.

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)

Ben Gvir said that he himself had purchased a set of the Four Species at the kiosk, and dismissed speculation that Dorfman did not properly report his earnings from the enterprise. Everybody knows that customers at these kind of kiosks don’t receive receipts, the National Security Minister said, adding that he was certain that Dorfman reports all his earnings, “from A to Z.”

Dorfman, who “works 20 hours a day” and is “the best there is,” had received personal approval to have the kiosk, the minister said.

Although complaints were filed over the gun incident, police declined to open an official probe. 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.

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.”

Also on Wednesday, Ben Gvir reiterated his “proud” support for an easing of live-fire engagement rules by police and security forces.

“I am not ashamed to say that I think we need to change live fire rules. I am not ashamed to act, to make it so that it will be easier for our police officers to shoot those who threaten them,” he said.

Ben Gvir has faced criticism in recent months over the spiraling murder rate in Arab communities, but he said “this is not a phenomenon that started in the last eight months…The police are now doing more prevention, more operations, increasing weapons seizures and striving for operational engagement.”

Since the start of the year, there have been 195 violent crime fatalities in Arab communities, compared to 82 deaths during the same period last year, according to the Abraham Initiatives organization, which tracks the figures.

Last week, a mass shooting in the north left five members of a Bedouin family dead.

The killings are part of a violent crime wave that has engulfed the Arab community in recent years. Many community leaders blame the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence. They also point to decades of neglect and discrimination by government offices as the root cause of the problem.

Authorities have blamed burgeoning organized crime and the proliferation of weaponry, while some have pointed to a failure by communities to cooperate with law enforcement to root out criminals.

Michael Horovitz contributed to this report.

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