Outgoing police minister blasts bill to expand successor’s power over cops

As Likud-led bloc fast-tracks legislation to make police chief subordinate to incoming minister Itamar Ben Gvir, Omer Barlev warns police will be a ‘puppet on a string’

File: Public Security Minister Omer Barlev speaks during a conference in Herzliya, October 2, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
File: Public Security Minister Omer Barlev speaks during a conference in Herzliya, October 2, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Outgoing Public Security Minister Omer Barlev warned Tuesday that a bill being advanced by the incoming coalition to expand his portfolio’s powers under his successor Itamar Ben Gvir “will destroy the police.”

The new bill proposed by Ben Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit dictates that he will be the one to set police policy, apparently relegating the police commissioner to the role of administrator charged with carrying it out. Currently, the commissioner sets policy in consultation with the minister, and the shift will seemingly give Ben Gvir, a far-right activist with prior criminal convictions, broad control over a police force he has long been at odds with.

“Both at the operative level and at the legislative level, the proposal is unwarranted and will lead to the destruction of the Israel Police and the destruction of democracy in Israel,” Barlev said during a faction meeting of his Labor party.

“This bill will destroy the independence of the Israel Police. It will make it completely controlled by the politicians, leaving the police like a puppet on a string,” he added.

Barlev went on to accuse Ben Gvir of being responsible for a recent uptick in crime between Jewish citizens, blaming the Otzma Yehudit chairman’s populist rhetoric.

“The average citizen hears Ben Gvir and thinks that with force and only with force he can solve a particular problem, so he takes a knife and stabs his neighbor,” Barlev charged. “We have seen a significant spike over the last six to eight weeks in these kinds of incidents of Jews against Jews. You can’t blame the Israel Police for this issue.”

MK Itamar Ben Gvir confronting Interior Security Minister Omer Barlev at the scene of a deadly terror attack in Hadera, March 28, 2022. (screenshot)

Ben Gvir issued a statement responding to the criticism in which he called Barlev the worst public security minister in Israel’s history and claimed the outgoing minister should have resigned a long time ago.

“It’s time to fix what the previous government destroyed and fight crime while bringing personal security back to the streets,” he added.

Ben Gvir’s critics have warned that his tough-on-crime stance will largely translate into punitive policies targeting Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. The coalition deal he signed with Likud will also give him authority over the Border Police’s West Bank division, which currently sits more squarely under the head of the IDF’s Central Command.

Ben Gvir has called for deporting “disloyal” Arab citizens, imposing the death penalty against Palestinians convicted of terror offenses and easing open-fire rules against Palestinian attackers.

Earlier Tuesday, the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee approved the fast-tracking of the legislation aimed at crafting Ben Gvir’s new role as national security minister. It passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset on Tuesday night.

Justice Minister Gideon Saar (L) speaks during an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

New bills must pass a 45-day waiting period between being formally submitted and being brought for a preliminary vote, unless granted the special exemption that the Arrangements Committee granted on Tuesday after a heated three-hour session.

On Friday, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara leaked to Hebrew media that she did not support the legislation in its current form and would not be prepared to defend such a bill if and when it is challenged in the High Court of Justice.

The Otzma Yehudit bill also provides the minister broad powers to decide which issues do or do not merit tougher investigation and enforcement. It stipulates that the minister will not be able to dictate the opening or closing of specific probes, such as investigations into politicians suspected of wrongdoing. However, the minister will be authorized to set general policy on investigations and the handling of cases.

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