Ben Gvir says attorney general ‘hates’ him after she charges he exceeded his powers

Far-right minister tried to prevent an anti-war protest from taking place in November, but was overruled by State Attorney’s Office

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of the Otzma Yehudit party National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told the High Court Monday that National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has “wrongfully and illegally intervened in police work” related to the right to protest, whereupon the far-right MK complaned that she “hates” him.

As minister in charge of police, Ben Gvir can set policy but is not permitted to instruct police on specific enforcement, Baharav-Miara said.

Responding to the attorney general’s criticism, Ben Gvir’s office complained that “there is no incident that reaches the court in which the attorney general does not act against Minister Ben Gvir.” Accusing Baharav-Miara of being “biased” and “agenda-driven,” the statement claimed she bears “hatred for Minister Ben Gvir” and insisted he “will continue to instruct police to uphold the law.”

In November, several organizations petitioned the High Court, seeking to prevent Ben Gvir from instructing the police on how to react to certain protests, after he spoke out against a November rally organized by the Arab-majority Hadash party calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and made clear his belief that it should not be allowed to take place.

The November petition against Ben Gvir followed numerous instances throughout the protests against the government’s judicial overhaul legislation efforts in which the national security minister was accused of closely involving himself with policing of the demonstrations, pressuring police to take a far tougher hand with demonstrators seen to be disrupting public order.

In her response to the petitions on behalf of the state, Baharav-Miara told the High Court that a review of the case at hand indicates Ben Gvir “crossed a line” into “forbidden intervention” in police discretion, and particularly criticized such intervention “in the sensitive issue of demonstrations and the right to protest.”

Ben Gvir’s office said it was “unfortunate that even after October 7, the attorney general hasn’t learned her lesson. She is an attorney general who was appointed as part of a very clear agenda and she works in pursuit of it.”

Minister Gideon Sa’ar (R) arrives at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Baharav-Miara was appointed by former justice minister Gideon Sa’ar, who throughout most of 2023 opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Members of the hard right long claimed, without evidence, that Baharav-Miara was continuing to do his bidding. Sa’ar is now once again a member of the cabinet under the emergency government formed amid the war.

The November 18 protest in Tel Aviv was organized by Hadash, according to Haaretz, and was attended by some 700 people who called for an end to the war and the return of the estimated 133 hostages still held by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza.

Left-wing activists protest against the war, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, on December 28, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

While Israel’s war against the Hamas terror group enjoys wide support domestically, a vocal minority has protested the punishing military campaign in Gaza and called for a ceasefire and a diplomatic solution for the return of the hostages that remain in captivity in the Strip.

Throughout the war, many hostages’ families have led protests calling for their loved ones to be released immediately and accusing the government of not doing enough to that end.

The war was launched following the Hamas-led October 7 assault on southern Israel, in which some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and more than 240 people were taken hostage.

After Ben Gvir tried to block the demonstration, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) rights group requested that Baharav-Miara issue an injunction against Ben Gvir to ban him from trying to prevent future protests.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to cast her ballot for the head of the Israel Bar Association at a voting station in Tel Aviv on June 20, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In her official response to the organization Monday, the attorney general confirmed that Ben Gvir was not qualified to issue such orders. Baharav-Miara said that by trying to prevent the protest from taking place, Ben Gvir had overstepped his authority, adding that “his involvement in police work constitutes illegal interference and attempted influence.”

Despite this, Baharav-Miara has not yet issued an injunction.

Baharav-Miara’s response echoed one issued in March, determining that while Ben Gvir was entitled to set general policies, he could not give operational orders to officers in the field.

Police stand guard while Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, November 4, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Ben Gvir regularly tried to flex his authority throughout 2023 as anti-government protests rocked the country, sparked by the government’s deeply controversial plans to overhaul the judiciary.

The protests, which were held weekly, saw demonstrators marching in cities across the country and, on many occasions, trying to block major highways. Ben Gvir called this behavior anarchism and ordered the police to make more arrests and use forceful means to deter protesters, such as water cannons.

Much of Ben Gvir’s outrage at the handling of the protests was directed at former Tel Aviv police chief Amichai Eshed, whom the minister tried to remove from his position in March and transfer to a more marginal role. Baharav-Miara stepped in at the time to prevent the demotion, but Eshed eventually retired from the force in July.

Baharav-Miara, who was appointed by the more politically diverse previous government, has regularly found herself at loggerheads with current government ministers over her opposition to the right-wing government’s attempts to overhaul the judiciary and other legislation and policies.

The attorney general was opposed to the reasonableness law, which was passed in July as part of the judicial overhaul and was struck down by the High Court of Justice on Monday. Due to her opposition to the law, Baharav-Miara did not represent the government in the High Court hearing and even urged the court to strike down the law.

In September, Justice Minister Yariv Levin said that Baharav-Miara’s failures to cooperate with the government’s policies made her nearly impossible to work with but that firing her was not — yet — on the agenda.

Since the start of the war with Hamas in October, however, the attorney general’s work relations with the now-expanded emergency cabinet appear to have been largely amicable.

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