High Court rejects petition to disqualify far-right Ben Gvir as a minister

Panel of three judges find that despite Otzma Yehudit leader’s checkered past, his appointment to cabinet is not ‘unreasonable in the extreme’

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

National Security Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting of his Otzma Yehudit party at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Security Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting of his Otzma Yehudit party at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice unanimously rejected Wednesday a petition seeking the removal of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir from office due to his previous criminal convictions, and ruled that his appointment was within the bounds of reasonableness.

Justice Isaac Amit wrote that although the far-right Otzma Yehudit party leader’s appointment was problematic, it was not “unreasonable in the extreme” and therefore did not warrant court intervention.

The 12th of Heshvan tolerance organization, together with several individuals, petitioned the court against Ben Gvir’s appointment in December 2022, arguing that it was unreasonable due to his ongoing alleged involvement in efforts to disturb the peace, as well as his criminal past, including convictions for incitement to racism and supporting a terror organization.

“There is a common thread between the various crimes for which Minister Ben Gvir has been convicted over the years, in that most of them are directly and indirectly related to the violation of public order, while the national security minister is the figure who is entrusted with maintaining the rule of law and public order,” Amit conceded in the ruling.

The judge added, however, that the considerable time that has passed since Ben Gvir was last convicted, his relative youth when he was convicted, and the fact that he told the court he has since “changed his ways,” mitigate against ordering him removed from office.

Nonetheless, he castigated Ben Gvir over his behavior since entering office, saying that some of the minister’s remarks “are harsh statements that should not be heard from an elected official and that this is conduct that is not appropriate for a minister in Israel.”

Justice Isaac Amit at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, January 4, 2024. (Flash90/Yonatan Sindel)

Amit said he agreed with Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara who, though opposing the petition to oust him, told the court in March last year that Ben Gvir’s behavior harms “public trust in government institutions,” and in particular the National Security Ministry, which oversees the police.

Amit also pointed out that the power to appoint cabinet ministers is a “political authority in essence” and that the discretion granted to the prime minister “is broad.”

Court intervention is limited to appointments that “may cause severe and serious damage to the status of the government institutions and the public’s trust in them.”

Justices Noam Sohlberg and Yechiel Kasher both concurred with Amit’s decision, specifically that there is no room for an activist ruling against Ben Gvir.

Though she opposed the petition against him, Ben Gvir and Baharav-Miara have clashed repeatedly, with the minister making several public calls for the attorney general to be fired.

Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to casts 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 March 2023, Ben Gvir asked the High Court to authorize his request for private legal counsel 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. Ben Gvir, a lawyer by profession, went on to represent himself in the case.

Last January, the High Court struck down Shas leader Aryeh Deri’s appointment to the cabinet, calling his position as a minister “unreasonable in the extreme” due to his criminal convictions.

As the government moved ahead with a controversial major overhaul of the judiciary, it also passed a law limiting the court’s use of the reasonableness yardstick.

Then, in a landmark decision last month, the High Court of Justice struck down the law, annulling for the first time in the country’s history one of its quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

Ben Gvir, 47, has been indicted dozens of times, mostly for disturbing the peace, though he was exonerated in almost all the cases. The Jerusalem District Court in 2008 convicted him of incitement to racism and supporting a terror organization over a placard he held reading “Arabs out” following a Palestinian terror attack in Jerusalem and anti-Arab signs he had in his car that referred to the far-right Kach movement, a Jewish group that was banned as a terror organization.

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