Bar Lev criticizes Jewish extremism in parting jab at Ben-Gvir

New ministers take office • Tension surrounds conflict between incoming, outgoing ministers

 MK ITAMAR Ben-Gvir and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai attend a committee meeting in the Knesset, last week.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
MK ITAMAR Ben-Gvir and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai attend a committee meeting in the Knesset, last week.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

More than a dozen new ministers participated in handover ceremonies and meetings on Sunday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was sworn in on Thursday afternoon.

The ceremonies included Itamar Ben-Gvir taking over the newly branded National Security Ministry from Omer Bar Lev; Housing and Construction Minister Yitzchak Goldknopf taking over from Ze’ev Elkin; Education Minister Yoav Kisch taking over from Yifat Shasha-Biton; Shas chairman Arye Deri taking over the Interior Ministry from Ayelet Shaked and the Health Ministry from Nitzan Horowitz; Bezalel Smotrich taking over as finance minister from Avigdor Liberman; and Yoav Gallant taking over as defense minister from Benny Gantz.

Bar Lev, in his speech, gave Ben-Gvir a parting jab. The outgoing public security minister described his rich military record, including as commander of the elite General Staff Reconnaissance (Sayeret Matkal) commando unit – before pointing out that the first time in his life that he needed personal security was not because of threats from the many Arab enemies he made along the way but because he dared point out the facts about Jewish extremist violence towards Palestinians in the West Bank, which rose 40% in 2022.

“Crime is crime, no matter if whoever committed it was Jewish or not,” Bar Lev said, hinting that the incoming minister might give preferred treatment to Jewish criminals.

Bar Lev stressed that many of the police officers, prison guards, fire and rescue officers and others are not Jewish and still served their country and the law as equal citizens – and that he expected the service members to serve the state and not be swayed by politics.

R-L: Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich, Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, Religious Zionist Party MK Ofir Sofer, and UTJ leader Yitzhak Goldknopf in the Knesset Plenum, December 13, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)R-L: Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich, Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, Religious Zionist Party MK Ofir Sofer, and UTJ leader Yitzhak Goldknopf in the Knesset Plenum, December 13, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Bar Lev notably ignored Ben-Gvir, did not wish him luck nor shake his hand. Ben-Gvir harshly criticized Bar Lev during the latter’s tenure, including at the site of terror attacks soon after they happened. Bar Lev also vocally disapproved of Ben-Gvir’s law to expand his authority over the Israel Police, arguing that this showed a lack of self-confidence and a lack of understanding of how the system worked.

Ben-Gvir responded in his speech by saying he and his family were also constantly threatened by both Palestinians and “Jewish anarchists,” and that “it was time to take care of them.”

“Every day there are hundreds of stones thrown at Jewish residents of the West Bank, Jerusalem, the Negev and the Galilee only because they are Jews,” Ben-Gvir said.

The new minister met with Police Commissioner Yaakov (Kobi) Shabtai earlier on Sunday for their first working meeting. The meeting came amid speculations over the future of Ben-Gvir and Shabtai’s working relationship after past tensions between the two.

Shabtai briefed the minister on a number of topics connected to police work. And the two will continue to meet in coming days, Ben-Gvir’s office said.

What other ministries saw a transfer of powers?

Goldknopf in his speech at the Housing Ministry handover ceremony made a number of notable comments, including that he would advance construction in the West Bank, and that he would act on behalf of discharged IDF veterans to help them find affordable housing.

Goldknopf also addressed comments he made at a conference last month in which he said he was not aware of a housing crisis.

“Of course, I did not mean that there was ‘no crisis,’ but that I am new to the job and therefore am not familiar enough with the causes of the housing crisis,” he said.

Shasha-Biton urged Kisch in her speech in the Education Ministry handover ceremony not to “take the system backward.” She gave as an example the fact that she changed the system regarding testing in the humanities in high schools. Including Bible studies – from a standard matriculation exam to a written paper. This was a step towards more relevant, innovative education, she argued.

Kisch, however, said the education system was going to “change course,” and that he would cancel the humanities reform. He also repeated Likud’s campaign pledge to provide fully subsidized frameworks for children aged 0-3.

Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Nachman Ash mentioned in his speech at his ministry’s ceremony the fact that Religious Zionist Party MK and National Missions Minister Orit Struck said last week that according to the coalition agreements, a doctor could refuse treatment to a patient based on “religious belief” if the patient could find the treatment elsewhere.

“I turn to you, the minister, and request to safeguard the [health] system from what may be or seem to be discrimination in the health system,” Ash said.

“The health workers treat every person irrespective of their race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation or any other thing. Personally, I am embarrassed by the fact that there is even a need for a campaign to prevent discrimination in the health system,” Ash said.

At the Finance Ministry ceremony, Liberman told Smotrich he was at the new minister’s disposal to assist when needed. He also made a jab at the new minister, stating that “without flour, there is no Torah, so you will have to produce a lot of flour in light of the demands of your partners. A lot of flour.”

Smotrich called Liberman a “good and courageous” finance minister, and pledged to “shed any political agenda” to work only on behalf of the public.

When asked about the freezing of electricity price rates, a Netanyahu campaign promise, Smotrich replied that “promises must be kept, but I am entering a complex office and intend to examine the issue in depth. I’m not committing to anything in advance, [but] the high cost of living will be at the center of our policy,” he said.

New Justice Minister Yariv Levin and new Transportation Minister Miri Regev noticeably did not hold handover ceremonies, choosing instead to hold meetings with a photo documentation at the end.