National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, put on quite a show for the media on Saturday night. After a full day of running around in the aftermath of the terror attack in Jerusalem the previous evening, he got in front of the cameras to declare that he had apprehended the perpetrator: none other than the attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara.
In addition to attacking Baharav-Miara as if she were personally responsible for Palestinian terrorism, Ben Gvir pitched several ideas to deal with the problem. The first was to fast-track his “death penalty for terrorists” bill, shaving two weeks off the legislative process.
The startup nation has yet to come up with an idea as brilliant as capital punishment for terrorists who set out knowing full well they are likely to die in the act. Social media wags were quick to suggest a pointed slogan for Ben Gvir’s initiative: “Death to suicides.”
The idea is not new, having come up several times in various forums over the past eight years only to be shot down by senior officials and a vast majority of Knesset members, including hardliners like Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Ben Gvir’s running mate. A top official in the Shin Bet security service told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in 2018 that such a law could cause a further escalation of violence, an assessment that is unlikely to have changed in the intervening years.
Second, Ben Gvir called for swiftly sealing the terrorist’s home, asserting that the measure “conveys a very clear deterrent message.” He claimed to have contacted the attorney general at 8 a.m. the very morning after the attack and demanded that the measure be carried out within the hour.
But he failed to mention the fact that the process of sealing houses is not under the exclusive purview of the Israel Police. If a terrorist is a resident of the Palestinian Authority, the address is the Israel Defense Forces, and for residents of East Jerusalem the process must be coordinated between the military and police.
Either way, Ben Gvir’s National Security Ministry – a glorified police ministry – is not authorized to carry out the measure on its own, meaning his feigned outrage against the attorney general for ostensibly not authorizing security forces to seal the home of the terrorist was just a stunt. All he had to do was call Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and sort it out with him.
Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, poured cold water on Ben Gvir and his ideas. “Sealing houses doesn’t prevent terrorism,” he said in media interviews Saturday night.
And indeed, in the wake of murderous attacks such as the one in Jerusalem, Israelis would be better advised to follow Dichter’s example and keep a cool head.
Ben Gvir’s third idea was to “double” the size of the Firearm Licensing Department in his ministry, a decision that, like the previous two, is not his alone to make. A budget must be allocated for a ministry to expand one of its departments, followed by the creation of new positions and the issuing of tenders to fill them, all in close coordination with the Civil Service Commission. Naturally, this takes time.
Maybe at his next press conference Ben Gvir can rail at Daniel Hershkowitz, the civil service commissioner. Maybe another of his prime-time displays of rage will help defeat terrorism.
When he assumed the job, Ben Gvir seemed to think that changing his title from “public security” to “national security” minister would generate deterrence or magically provide solutions on the ground. Amazingly, there were even some police officials who thought appointing Ben Gvir, who has been convicted eight times on incitement and terrorism charges, would elicit fear in some Palestinians. Alas, it seems the terrorists are not especially deterred by Ben Gvir’s hysterical public appearances, nor by the nuances of his title.
When it comes to the actual work of making things happen in the police force, he is still clueless. Sure, everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt in their first hundred days in office — but he hasn’t shown any desire to learn how a government ministry works.
Moreover, Ben Gvir seems to think that he should get points for working long hours. In several recent tweets – as well as in his statement in the wake of the attack – he emphasized that he had worked “all night”; that it was “3:30 p.m. and Shabbat is coming, and only now am I leaving the office”; that he had “just come away from a sleepless night in the Knesset”; and that he had “left the house for the Negev at 6 a.m.”
With all due respect to the minister, many people in this country serve in the military, police and emergency and rescue services. They all leave their homes early in the morning or pull all-nighters. The same goes for doctors, nurses and even some tech company employees. Israelis have a strong work ethic and there are very few unemployed. No one is impressed by the fact that a cabinet minister has to get up early in the morning or come home late at night.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that Ben Gvir is carrying on just as he did in his rabble-rousing days, first as a Kahanist activist and later as a firebrand lawmaker. Then, as now, his primary concern was stoking tempers, screaming and hurling insults – not actual leadership and getting things done.
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