The Ben Gvir bill that regulates the power of the next National Security Minister over the police, is going to committee on Wednesday, one day after being approved by the Knesset in a preliminary reading. The special committee, chaired by MK Ofir Katz (Likud) will debate continuing the legislative process. Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai will testify, alongside the Chairman of Otzma Yehudit.
In accordance with Ben Gvir’s demand from Netanyahu that his power over the police is regulated before the swearing-in of the new government, the bill to amend the Police Ordinance (Powers) was passed Tuesday night in a preliminary reading by a majority of 61 to 53 votes.
His committee appearance will be Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai’s last chance to stop the bill that radically alters his job description.
The bill states that the police commissioner will be subject to the government and subordinate to the minister, while the police as a whole will be subject to the government. Also, the minister will be responsible for the annual budget of the police which will become a separate section of the government’s annual budget.
Representatives of both the AG and the Knesset legal counsel met with Ben Gvir to inform him they were going to raise a few red flags during the committee debate, demanding, among other things, that the operational activities of the police continue to be subordinated to the commissioner. The minister will indeed be able to set policy, but the commissioner will remain responsible for the use of force against civilians.
At the same time, the legal teams expect to demand that political interests remain outside the police, even though the minister will set policy. They want a serious and exhaustive discussion of the bill so that they are better able to defend it before the High Court of Justice when it is appealed – and it most surely will be appealed. To that end, they demand that specific sections be inserted into the law to make it more balanced.
It appears that Labor Chairwoman Merav Michaeli is not a big fan of the bill, and called it “a dangerous proposal which will lead to the abolition of the independence of the police and the commissioner. Ben Gvir’s bill aims to turn the police into political police.”
The current Internal Security Minister Omer Barlev (Labor) argued: “This is an absurd proposal, which will make the police completely controlled by the politicians, and will leave the organization like a puppet on a string. It will lead to the destruction of the police and the destruction of democracy.”
The designated Minister of National Security attacked his predecessor from the Knesset podium, saying: “I want to address two issues that I pinched myself when I heard you talk about them. Earlier, you were talking about civil rights – do you think we are all idiots? Who arrested girls in demonstrations? Who hurt the Haredi public time and time again? Who harmed freedom of speech? You talk about civil rights? For a year and a half, you abused civilians, and hurt people, it was on your watch.”
Ben Gvir quoted Barlev, who also claimed there was a problem with the police ordinance, in the context of last year’s flags parade in Jerusalem: “Look me in the eyes and tell me what you did? Shall we tell them what you did? You turned to the AG. You claimed there was a problem and that the police ordinance is inadequate, it doesn’t cover everything and should be changed. But now, all of a sudden, when we are proposing this, it’s undemocratic and violates human rights. What hypocrisy.”
Former police commissioner Roni Alsheikh has been making the rounds speaking against Ben Gvir’s bill. He told Ynet on Tuesday that he was “anxious about the fate of the country,” and “the direction Ben Gvir is leading us to is a tremendous danger to personal security in the State of Israel.”
“I want the public to know that when law enforcement is in the hands of a political entity, the result will be more violence and less personal security, but this time on a different scale,” Alsheikh warned. “Then independent militias that no one authorized will arise and start guarding. And when they start shooting suspected criminals, we’ll see what will happen to the police. That’s where we’re headed.”
Incidentally, Israeli media have been covering in recent weeks the independent citizen watches, especially in the south. In several Jewish rural communities, as well as in Beer Sheva, the highway leading to the community is blocked by armed individuals after dark, and they question every motorist who tries to drive through. They’ve simply had enough of robberies and agricultural terrorism, and are prepared to give up sleep to fill in for the incompetent police.
Ben Gvir had something to say in response to the former commissioner, too: “It’s a shame they didn’t pass the law amending the police ordinance during the time of the former commissioner, he would have resigned and we would have been spared the tremendous damage he caused the police. To this day, we see the damage caused by his neglect of public safety, and he is trying to cover his failure with a media attack, instead of saying mia culpa.”
“We have not forgotten that Alsheikh spied on citizens, was involved in tailoring cases, was a failed commissioner, and most importantly – did not take care of safety in the streets. The amendment to the ordinance allows the minister to outline policy, principles, and rules. These things did not exist during Alsheikh’s time in office and this is why the police looks the way it does,” Ben Gvir said.