Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben-Gvir defended himself before the High Court of Justice on Monday against a petition that challenged his appointment to the post of national security minister.
Ben-Gvir wore a black robe and defended himself as a lawyer before the court, against arguments that largely invoked the reasonableness principle over the minister’s past opinions and actions.
“They submitted a petition on a world view, I’ll fight with truth,” said Ben-Gvir.
Attorney Gilad Barnea argued that Ben-Gvir’s appointment was unreasonable, saying it was similar to the case of Shas chairman Arye Deri. In January the court had determined that Deri’s appointment as health and interior minister was unreasonable given his long history of criminal action.
Ben-Gvir contended that the Deri decision was based on the Shas MK’s criminal past, but that his opponents were trying to implement the reasonableness principle on the basis of someone’s opinions. According to the High Court’s Deri decision, reasonableness can only be applied in the most extreme of situations, which did not fit his case.
Lawyer Assaf Fink said that they accepted that Otzmah Yehudit was part of the coalition, but said that the particular security post could not be filled by Ben-Gvir. There were things Netanyahu was supposed to take into account when appointing Ben-Gvir but didn’t, said Barnea. He said Netanyahu himself had said Ben-Gvir wouldn’t be a minister in his government.
Barnea attempted to demonstrate the unreasonableness of Ben-Gvir’s appointment. He cited a verbal attack on the LGBT community, though Justice Noam Sohlberg noted that the national security minister had retracted the statement. Barnea also accused Ben-Gvir of saying that Arab Knesset members were terrorists, and that terrorists had to be killed. Consequently, the petitioners argued that he was calling for the killing of his fellow MKs. Ben-Gvir was also alleged to have expressed racism to Arabs by calling to expel those who are loyal.
Ben-Gvir disputed the characterization, saying he never called all Arabs terrorists.
“When I say a terrorist, I mean terrorist, I mean those throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails,” said Ben-Gvir. “I am also the national security minister for the Arab sector.”
Ben-Gvir said he was also responsible and there for Arab fathers when they came to him to express concern about rising gun crime in their neighborhoods. While in the past he may have posted stickers saying “No Arabs, no terrorism,” or raised signs calling to expel Arabs, he no longer believed these things.
"People change," said Ben-Gvir, explaining since he had interacted with Arabs and become a lawyer. He had expressed new positions in recent years, contradicting those in his past. "They want to return me to the Ben-Gvir of twenty years ago."
Barnea called Ben-Gvir a chameleon, who had changed his colors according to the situation, but had still said all the statements that were beyond the pale.
Fink continued the argument that Ben-Gvir was not a reasonable person, despite a softening in rhetoric. He quoted a series of violent insults that Ben-Gvir had allegedly leveled against justices and MKs, including calling them “killers” with “blood on their hands.”
“They’re turning the court into a circus,” said Ben-Gvir.
Ben-Gvir argued that many of the quotes presented by the opposition were taken out of context. He said that while he was at times critical of the court, he saw them as his brothers. While he may have insulted politicians like MK Ahmad Tibi, he noted that Tibi had called him a racist and fascist.
The national security minister reminded the court that many politicians had said controversial things in the past, which some of them regretted. Ben-Gvir said that Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman remarked that Netanyahu reminded him of the Nazis, and National Unity MK Matan Kahana had stated that if there was a button to transfer all the Palestinians to Switzerland he would press it.
Fink attacked the national security minister’s connections, noting that Ben-Gvir donated money to Lehava, a far-right group against relations between Jews and non-Jews, as well as against LGBT people. He argued for the minister’s “recidivism,” distributing copies of a picture of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein’s rabbi, which Fink said hung in Ben-Gvir’s living room within recent years.
“Because someone is friends with someone, they shouldn’t be a minister?” Ben-Gvir asked the court.
Ben-Gvir said he had friends with whom he disagreed on issues. He said while he appreciated some actions by ultra-nationalist politician and convicted terrorist Rabbi Meir Kahane, he disagreed with him on many things, such as the man’s positions on Arabs.Ben-Gvir’s decisions as national security minister were also challenged. Pink noted his attempts to order police in the field during the judicial reform protests, as well as the banning of Palestinian flags.
“This is a reason someone shouldn’t be a minister?” Ben-Gvir said of the flags order. Ben-Gvir said that while he disagreed with the decision of the High Court and attorney-general barring him from giving orders in the field, he had not acted against it.
The petitioners encountered some challenges from the court at the beginning of the hearing. Questioned as to why they didn’t update the petition since the appointment of the national security minister, Ben-Gvir attacked them for not fixing the petition, saying he had responded according to court procedure, but the opposition wasn’t putting in the minimum requirements needed for the legal process. On this ground alone, Ben-Gvir argued the petition should be rejected.
Petitions and protests at the High Court of Justice
The petition was filed against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir and the attorney-general by Orni Petruschka and other activists. Petruschka is a former Israel Air Force fighter pilot and hi-tech entrepreneur who has worked with various left-wing and peace nonprofit groups.
Tag Meir, which describes itself as an anti-racism group, was set to protest outside the High Court building in Jerusalem against Ben-Gvir.
“What are the chances that an Arab Knesset member who was convicted twice for supporting terrorist organizations would be appointed the national security minister of the State of Israel,” read promotional materials for the protest.
The reasonableness principle allows for the High Court of Justice to intervene in administrative decisions that are deemed beyond the scope of a reasonable and responsible authority.