ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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Herzog blasts ‘unrestrained’ attack on attorney general by ministers at cabinet meet

President says extended lambasting of civil servants ‘intolerable and unacceptable’ following hours-long, raucous meeting where several ministers called for Baharav-Miara’s ouster

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, July 9, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, July 9, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)

President Isaac Herzog slammed the “unrestrained” attacks against public servants on Sunday, hours after ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government castigated Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara during a raucous, hours-long cabinet meeting, in which she was repeatedly attacked over authorities’ handling of lawbreaking during anti-government demonstrations in recent months, and several calls were made for her dismissal.

“There will always be a place for criticism, that is how democracy works,” Herzog said Sunday at a graduation ceremony at the National Security College. “But the unrestrained lambasting of civil servants is intolerable and unacceptable,” he said.

Baharav-Miara and other senior officials in the Justice Ministry were summoned to Sunday’s cabinet meeting to discuss how law enforcement agencies have dealt with the massive wave of protests against the government’s fervent efforts to overhaul the judiciary, which have included blocking highways and other forms of civil disobedience.

Ministers have bristled at what they view as overly soft handling of demonstrators who harass and heckle them wherever they go, stage protests at their homes and block key roads for hours at a time.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev said Baharav-Miara should be fired in light of what the Likud minister said was the attorney general’s unwillingness to prevent disturbances of the peace; National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said the failure to indict more protesters was “disgraceful”; Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan told her that “selective enforcement is evil”; and Justice Minister Yariv Levin accused her of siding with the demonstrators and suggested sarcastically that she should simply announce that blocking Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway is legal.

Baharav-Miara responded by implicitly accusing the ministers of attempted political interference in how law enforcement agencies manage protests against the government.

“I hope the government is not asking me to say that it wants more aggressive enforcement to suppress the protest against it, against the professional judgment of the [police] commanders on the ground and the state prosecution,” she stated in response to the wave of denunciations.

“I hope that the government is not expecting the law enforcement system to fill quotas for arrests or indictments against protesters,” she added.

At the end of the meeting Sunday, Baharav-Miara was asked to submit a document to the cabinet within seven days detailing law enforcement policy toward road-blocking, protests at elected officials’ homes and calls for refusal to serve in the military and other forms of disobedience.

She was also told to present a clear policy on enforcement at Ben Gurion Airport by Tuesday, when mass protests are once again planned for the airport.

The Knesset is expected on Monday to approve the first reading of a bill outlawing the use of the “reasonableness” doctrine to review decisions made by the cabinet, government ministers and other elected officials. If it clears, protesters have vowed a “day of disruption” with mass demonstrators nationwide on Tuesday.

In the meeting Sunday, the cabinet further demanded that the attorney general detail policies relating to the blocking of roads, including “if, and how often, it is allowed to block main traffic routes without enforcement actions being taken against the organizers of the blockade and those blocking the roads, without arrests being made or indictments being filed.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid and other members of the opposition condemned the cabinet’s treatment of Baharav-Miara and accused the government of undermining democratic norms in their behavior toward her.

“The government carried out a violent hazing against the attorney general today. The ministers’ ugly attack on Gali Baharav-Miara, a decent [person] and a ‘gatekeeper’ who is just doing her job, is a demonstration of what they are trying to do to Israeli society: bullying instead of the rule of law, government violence against citizens and officials, the forceful elimination of our democracy,” Lapid said.

Fellow opposition party chief Benny Gantz termed the meeting “the culmination of a fear-mongering campaign against law enforcement officials.”

“The Netanyahu and Ben Gvir horror show raises the concern that the government is not seeking equal enforcement, but rather bullying enforcement” against the anti-overhaul protesters, said Gantz.

Labor leader Merav Michaeli compared the attack on Baharav-Miara to behavior in autocratic regimes such as Russia.

“The planned attack by the government against the attorney general should shake us to our core. The government of Israel summoned the attorney general to a hearing in which she was required to answer questions about how many protesters were arrested and taken for questioning. This isn’t happening in Putin’s Russia, it’s here in Netanyahu’s Israel,” said Michaeli.

On Sunday night, dozens of protesters gathered in support of the attorney general outside her home. Police requested that protesters remain 200 meters (656 feet) away from the residence.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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