Netanyahu, Ben Gvir rip into AG over ‘Zionist values’ resolution as vote postponed

Baharav-Miara is opposed to measure that may allow for preferential treatment for Jews in housing planning and construction in the Negev and Galilee

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at a rally in support of the government's planned judicial overhaul, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 27, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at a rally in support of the government's planned judicial overhaul, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 27, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir were strongly critical of the attorney general during Sunday’s cabinet meeting over a proposed government resolution to assert “the values of Zionism” in government policy, particularly over land allocation, construction planning and benefits for those who perform military duty.

The government resolution, which was scheduled for a vote during Sunday’s cabinet meeting, has raised concerns it could be used to advance preferential treatment for the Jewish population regarding planning and construction for housing in different parts of the country, and is opposed by the Attorney General’s Office.

A vote on the measure was, however, delayed due to the opposition of ultra-Orthodox parties, and will be deliberated instead in the forum of coalition party heads.

During the course of the cabinet debate, Otzma Yehudit leader Ben Gvir sniped at Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara for having sent a deputy to the meeting and for not submitting a written opinion on the issue, adding that her opposition to the measure demonstrated she was opposed to Zionism.

“We are losing the Negev and the Galilee. This resolution will enable [us] to prioritize values to Judaize the Galilee with settlement, and IDF soldiers and the security forces,” Ynet reported Ben Gvir as saying.

And Netanyahu criticized the Israel Lands Authority, which, he said, was creating economic problems and roadblocks for the construction and expansion of new towns, and accused the agency of “creating discrimination,” according to Channel 12 news.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on May 28, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He also protested Baharav-Miara’s reported suggestion that further deliberations be held over the measure, saying “I don’t want to give instructions to have a debate, I want to determine policy,” he said, adding that the situation in which, he alleged, the ILA was creating policy was “absurd.”

But ultra-Orthodox ministers took issue with the measure due to concerns their electorate might be negatively impacted by prioritizing benefits for those who served in the IDF and other branches of the security forces.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Meir Porush of the United Torah Judaism party warned the proposal was “a dangerous development,” Channel 12 reported, while Interior and Health Minister Moshe Arbel of Shas implied it could be used by future governments against the ultra-Orthodox population. “These things will remain after the current minister as well,” said Arbel in reference to Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf who has proposed the resolution.

“We are dealing here with semantics instead of operative actions… a decisive value for IDF soldiers, this is dangerous,” he continued.

Earlier on Sunday, Ben Gvir issued a thinly veiled warning against the attorney general, saying that anyone opposing his party’s government resolution asserting “the values of Zionism” with regard to settlement “in the Land of Israel” would be voicing opposition to Zionism itself.

“Today is an important day on which we are bringing up a resolution in support of IDF soldiers, and Zionism as a guiding value. This is how we will [also] strive to develop the Negev and the Galilee,” said Ben Gvir before the start of the cabinet meeting, and before it had been shelved.

“I am hearing that there are all sorts of voices who want to oppose this,” he continued. “Anyone who opposes our resolution, anyone who objects to our statement that Zionism should be a guiding value, anyone who objects to our statement in support of IDF soldiers, is in effect turning themselves into an opponent of Zionism. I very, very much hope that we will not hear these voices.”

The government resolution proposed by Wasserlauf of Otzma Yehudit bases the Zionist values it seeks to promote on those expressed in the controversial Basic Law: Nation State of the Jewish People.

Members of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, including party leader and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir as well as Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf hold a party meeting at the illegal West Bank settlement outpost of Evyatar, February 27, 2023. (Courtesy: Otzma Yehudit)

Wasserlauf and the far-right Otzma party have adopted a goal of “Judaizing” the Negev and Galilee regions in light of the large Arab populations in those regions, and the “Zionist values” resolution may be part of the far-right party’s efforts to achieve that goal.

In April, Wasserlauf said during a tour of illegal Bedouin villages in the Negev that one of his goals as minister was “activities to increase Jewish settlement and its foundations in the Negev and Galilee.”

In February, the minister lamented what he said was the fact that just 14 percent of the population of the Galilee was Jewish — a disputed figure — and that “an extra 135,000 Bedouin and Arabs” had been added to the region’s population over the last decade, compared to “just 1,200 Jews.”

Wasserlauf added that “Israeli governments and the State of Israel have never taken on Judaizing the Galilee as a project.”

The text of Wasserlauf’s proposed resolution states specifically that it is applicable to government agencies involved in land allocation and construction planning, such as the Israel Land Authority and the National Council for Planning and Construction.

The explanatory text of the resolution states that considerations used by the government and its various branches sometimes “ignore basic Zionist values,” specifically regarding the right to self-determination of the Jewish people “in the Land of Israel,” including “in [the field of] settlement, security, culture, and immigration.”

Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara attends a cabinet meeting held at the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 21, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The use of the phrase “the Land of Israel,” instead of the “State of Israel,” and Otzma Yehudit’s strong support for the West Bank settlement movement could also indicate that the resolution is designed in part to overcome legal problems faced by many West Bank settlements.

In the recently approved state budget, Wasserlauf secured NIS 450 million ($121 million) for his ministry to allocate towards development funds for local municipal authorities in the Negev, Galilee and wildcat outposts euphemistically termed “young settlements” for which the Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Ministry is also responsible.

In addition, the focus of the resolution on giving preferential treatment to citizens who serve in the IDF or perform national service may be a way to provide some social benefits specifically to Jews, since the large majority of Arab citizens do not serve in the military or national service.

According to reports, Baharav-Miara was expected to issue an opinion opposing the resolution, arguing that the High Court of Justice only decided not to strike down Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People since government ministries and agencies could interpret it in line with existing values in Israel’s other Basic Laws, including principles prohibiting discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or religion.

Otzma Yehudit’s government resolution would seemingly make the principles of the Nation State law more applicable in a practical sense, allowing for preferential treatment of the Jewish population, which the attorney general will reportedly oppose.

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