ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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Hundreds rally in Tel Aviv, other cities against forming Ben Gvir-led National Guard

Arab political leader Odeh calls force set to be led by far-right minister a ‘fascist militia,’ amid fears the initiative will politicize law enforcement

Protesters rally in Tel Aviv against far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and the proposed formation of a national guard on March 29, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
Protesters rally in Tel Aviv against far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and the proposed formation of a national guard on March 29, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Hundreds of left-wing activists rallied Wednesday night in Tel Aviv against the proposed establishment of a new National Guard that would answer to far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

The protests were held as Ben Gvir unveiled plans for the formation of the 2,000-member force and amid ongoing protests against the government’s overhaul of the judicial system, put on pause since Sunday.

A number of central roads in Tel Aviv were temporarily closed off due to the protest, which was held under the banner, “No to Ben Gvir’s militia.”

The Standing Together social justice group, which led the protest along with other organizations, said similar rallies were also held in Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba, Rehovot and Holon.

Images from the demonstration in Tel Aviv showed numerous Palestinian and Pride flags sprinkled among the Israeli flags that predominated the event. Protesters also carried signs with slogans such as “there is no democracy with occupation” and posters denouncing Ben Gvir.

Addressing the protest, the head of the predominantly Arab Hadash-Ta’al political faction likened the National Guard to “the brown shirts” of the Nazi paramilitary.

Protesters rally in Tel Aviv against far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and the proposed formation of a National Guard on March 29, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

“Or the yellow shirts,” MK Ayman Odeh said in reference to the color included in the logo of several Israeli nationalist groups, including the Jewish supremacist Kach movement that Ben Gvir was active in as a teen.

Kach was founded by the late extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, who Ben Gvir and other members of his Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party have described themselves as disciples of. Ben Gvir has recently sought to distance himself from some of Kahane’s more extreme positions, but spoke at a memorial event for him in November.

“We won’t allow you to form fascist militias in the service of Kahanism,” Odeh said at the protest.

Ben Gvir revealed the details of his proposal for the National Guard on Wednesday, which will be submitted for government approval at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Based on the text of a resolution to be considered by the cabinet, the National Guard will be tasked with tackling “nationalist crime,” terrorism and “restoring governance where needed.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir attends a rally in support of the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Jerusalem on March 27, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Civil rights groups as well as opposition politicians have expressed extreme concern over the proposal to bring such a force under the direct control of a government minister, arguing that it could politicize policing and undermine the principle of equality in law enforcement.

If the resolution is approved, Ben Gvir will establish a committee comprising representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, Defense Ministry, Justice Ministry, Finance Ministry, Israel Police and IDF to implement the establishment of the force.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu green-lit Ben Gvir’s proposal for the National Guard on Monday night. The move was widely seen as coming in exchange for Ben Gvir backing down from his threat to quit the coalition after Netanyahu announced a pause on contentious judicial overhaul legislation.

The legislative push has set off massive, nationwide protests that escalated for over two months until Netanyahu decided to delay the overhaul for negotiations, although protest leaders believe the government still intends to implement its full legislative plan to weaken the judiciary.

Ben Gvir has been a vocal critic of the police’s handling of the protests, calling for officers to use harsher measures against demonstrators, and has sought greater direct control of the force since becoming national security minister.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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