Israel Elections: Ben-Gvir demands Public Security Ministry

Parties in the pro-Netanyahu bloc attack each other in an attempt to draw last-minute votes before Israel's election.

 MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference ahead of the upcoming elections, in Jerusalem, July 11, 2022.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference ahead of the upcoming elections, in Jerusalem, July 11, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Religious Zionist Party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, chairman of the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction, on Sunday said he will demand to be appointed public security minister if his party becomes part of the upcoming coalition.

His policies as public security minister would include five elements, he said at a press conference: changing the rules of engagement for policemen and soldiers; immunity for policemen and soldiers for any actions taken against terrorists; reducing the rights of terrorists in jails; treating agricultural crime as terrorism and increasing punishment for criminal demands for “protection” from business owners; and allowing anyone with basic combat training to carry a weapon.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, chairman of the Likud, on Sunday said: “Ben-Gvir will be a minister in the government only if I form it, and to do so, I need to be bigger than [the party of Prime Minister Yair] Lapid.”

In response, Yesh Atid said in a statement: “Ben-Gvir, a convicted terrorist who announced that he would cancel Netanyahu’s trial, now demands the Public Security Ministry. Netanyahu will be held hostage by Ben-Gvir in an extreme and dark government. They must not be allowed to harm police officers and soldiers and take the country backwards in order to serve one man.”

 L: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir. R: Likud leader, former-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) L: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir. R: Likud leader, former-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

"Ben-Gvir will be a minister in the government only if I form it, and to do so I need to be bigger than [the party of Prime Minister Yair] Lapid."

Benjamin Netanyahu

Ben-Gvir calls for retroactive immunity for Netanyahu

Earlier on Sunday, a recording was published in which Ben-Gvir expressed support for a “retroactive French law,” a law that bars criminal investigations of a sitting prime minister and which Ben-Gvir wants to be enacted retroactively so it can apply to Netanyahu.

This legislation would end Netanyahu’s trial. The former prime minister is currently on trial for three counts of fraud and breach of trust and one count of bribery for actions taken while serving as prime minister.

“My position is unequivocally more than [Religious Zionist Party chairman Bezalel] Smotrich,” Ben-Gvir said on the recording, referring to Smotrich’s plan for reforming the judicial system, which includes a French law that would not affect the Netanyahu trial.

“I will demand a retroactive French law, and by my estimation, it will pass an appeal to the High Court [of Justice],” he is heard saying. “Let me remind you that I am a lawyer. The High Court’s judges will understand the rationale and purpose... the prime minister is innocent until proven guilty and should not be brought down by an attorney-general’s caprice. This is not a personal matter; he [Netanyahu] is the leader of the Right, and he was framed as the leader of the Right. We need to make sure that the phenomenon of framing people passes from the world.”

Ben-Gvir's statements on Netanyahu's trial draw criticism

The recording, which was obtained and published by Ynet, drew condemnation across the political spectrum.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, No. 2 on the National Unity Party list, wrote on Twitter: “The Netanyahu bloc is coordinated. The abolition of the trial and the establishment of the Bibi Republic [would be] a paradise for governmental corruption, in which the Knesset and the government will serve as havens for criminals.”

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, leader of the Bayit Yehudi Party, wrote on Twitter: “Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are doing everything in recent days by bringing up deranged ideas that will destroy Israeli democracy. They should not be allowed to do so and must not lead the country on their own.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, leader of National Unity, wrote on Twitter: “They have lost their shame. These people are a step away from becoming the most senior ministers. The November nightmare is coming true – we are facing a clear and tangible danger to the State of Israel.”

Smotrich distanced himself from Ben-Gvir’s proposed policy and reiterated that he did not intend for Netanyahu’s trial to be canceled.

“My plan is clear,” he told Army Radio. “I encourage the public to download and read it. The Netanyahu trial is the best thing that is helping us show why this plan is necessary.”

In response, Netanyahu told Army Radio: “I have no intention of changing anything in my trial, except for making it air on live television so that everyone can see how it is falling apart. I do not need anything else and will not do anything else.”

Meanwhile, parties in the Netanyahu bloc attacked each other on Sunday in an effort to attract last-minute voters. The sharpest exchange was between Ben-Gvir and MK Moshe Gafni, No. 2 on United Torah Judaism’s list.

In a meeting with supporters, Ben-Gvir accused the heads of UTJ of having conducted negotiations with Gantz to form a government without Otzma Yehudit.

“We have internal information about what is going on there,” he said. “There is a lawyer there named Ronen Aviani, an adviser of Gantz... who is in constant contact with Gafni and [UTJ leader Yitzhak] Goldknopf, and they are already cooking up the day after [the election]. They have no problem throwing us out and going with Gantz.”

In response, UTJ said: “Unlike Ben-Gvir, who was never part of any government, UTJ proved in the dozens of years of its existence that it only joins right-wing governments. Itamar Ben-Gvir, who betrayed his friends and fellow party founders Baruch Marzel and Dr. Michael Ben Ari, has no reason not to betray his voters.”

In response, Ben-Gvir said: “In the meantime, the only person who declared that he was closer to the Left than to the Right and did not hang out with [MK] Ahmad Tibi... is Moshe Gafni himself. If there is a danger that anyone will form a government with the Left, it is Gafni.”

He accused Gafni of trying to steal votes from the Religious Zionist Party and called on him to stop engaging in infighting and causing harm to the Right bloc.

Gafni on Sunday also expressed his displeasure with Netanyahu, who visited the predominantly haredi city of Bnei Brak on Saturday night to encourage local residents to vote, after reports indicated that ultra-Orthodox voting percentages might dip in this election.

“He [Netanyahu] should not be helping us; he should do his work in the Likud,” he said. “We will ensure that our voters go to vote.”