Ben Gvir says attorney general must be fired, is acting as de facto opposition chief

Far-right minister claims Gali Baharav-Miara has opposed every government decision, says he recognizes legal complexity in axing her but says it’s necessary given the circumstances

Composite photo: Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir, left, 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)
Composite photo: Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir, left, 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)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir on Thursday called for Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara’s ouster, claiming that she has been “serving as the de facto opposition leader.”

In a letter to fellow coalition party chiefs urging them to back the move, Ben Gvir claimed Baharav-Miara’s approach since the December 29 establishment of the hardline coalition has been to “automatically reject any decision or bill backed by the government or those related to it.”

While members of the ruling coalition have been regularly criticizing Baharav-Miara and have even hinted at a desire to remove her as attorney general, Ben Gvir became the first to openly make such a call.

“I am aware of the legal difficulty in firing her, but the damage the attorney general is causing every day she remains in her role is immeasurably greater,” charged Ben Gvir, who heads the far-right Otzma Yehudit party.

The national security minister claimed that Baharav-Miara was appointed by the previous unity government “under questionable circumstances,” but that, unlike her conduct over the past two and a half months, she had served as a rubber stamp for the previous cabinet, backing its maritime agreement with Lebanon and appointment of IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, major decisions that had taken place during the last coalition’s caretaker phase.

Nonetheless, Ben Gvir said he had sought to give Baharav-Miara a chance to prove herself during the tenure of the new government.

“But day by day, her oppositional behavior has only increased to the point when she currently functions as de facto opposition leader,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives opening remarks during Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, January 29, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

He highlighted the attorney general’s opposition to legislation granting him expanded authority over police, his effort to impose a lockdown over all of East Jerusalem in response to a terror wave, his legislation to expand death penalty sentences to those convicted of terrorism, and to legislation that would grant Israeli security forces immunity from prosecution for their actions during military operations — measures that critics warned would lead to massive violations of human rights.

Ben Gvir took particular issue with Baharav-Miara freezing his decision to remove Tel Aviv District Police Commander Amichai Eshed from his post over the latter’s purported lenient treatment of protesters who blocked roads during demonstrations against the government’s judicial overhaul plan.

“The conduct of the attorney general harms… the ability of the ministers to implement the policies that they were elected to carry out,” he wrote.

Ben Gvir speculated that Baharav-Miara would eventually rule in favor of scrapping whatever legislation the coalition passes in order to overhaul the judiciary.

The national security minister’s letter came a day after Baharav-Miara reportedly told the High Court of Justice that Ben Gvir may have “crossed the line” in his recent interventions with police affairs and operational matters and must refrain from giving operational instructions to the police “under the guise of alleged policy directives.”

The attorney general made the comments in response to a petition by Ben Gvir this week demanding he be allowed independent counsel for petitions against legislation expanding his ministry’s powers over the police and, against his decision to remove Eshed from his post.

Chief of police’s Tel Aviv district, Amichai Eshed, is greeted by protesters during a rally against the government’s judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv on March 11, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Eshed’s transfer to a lesser position, announced just after Ben Gvir publicly railed against him, was blocked by Baharav-Miara until the matter is probed. She said the move was warranted amid concerns over Ben Gvir’s political motives. The minister has long called for a harsher stance against anti-government protesters, including mass arrests.

Her reported response to the High Court came a day after Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon said during a Knesset committee meeting that the legislation expanding Ben Gvir’s influence over police policy has harmed the force’s operative independence and increased its politicization.

On Monday, Ben Gvir filed his own petition to the High Court asking it to authorize his request for private legal representation or allow him to represent himself, citing his lack of faith in Baharav-Miara’s ability to faithfully represent his positions in such legal proceedings due to her decision to freeze Eshed’s removal.

The Attorney General’s Office almost always represents the government in legal proceedings against it or against legislation, and ministers must receive permission from that office to obtain independent counsel in a situation where the attorney general does not support the government’s position. As well as heading the public prosecution service, the attorney general also serves as the chief legal counsel to the government and reviews government resolutions, administrative decisions, and government-backed legislation to determine their legality. Her title in Hebrew is “Legal Adviser to the Government.”

In response to his petition, the High Court told Ben Gvir he must get the attorney general’s opinion on his request for independent counsel in legal motions against him before approaching the court.

On Sunday, Netanyahu seemingly aimed criticism at Baharav-Miara when, at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, he declared that “in a functioning democracy, the elected government is responsible for the army, the police, and the other security agencies.”

“There is no one else to determine who will command these bodies, who will lead them, and how they will be led,” Netanyahu charged.

Last month, Justice Minister Yariv Levin appeared to threaten to fire Baharav-Miara in the future, as the hardline government continued to find itself clashing with its most senior legal representative.

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