National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir's intervention into the Israel Police's operational considerations during demonstrations against the government's judicial reform proves that he wishes to take away the police's independence, opposition MKs argued during a Knesset session on Tuesday afternoon.
The comments came during a debate over the second part of what is known as the Police Law, a law proposed by Ben-Gvir that defines the minister's authority over the police. The first section passed prior to the government's inception in late December, and the second section was partially advanced but did not become law.
The second section determines that the police commissioner serves under the government's authority but is "subordinate" to the national security minister. The bill adds that the commissioner is the highest commanding officer of the police. It also gives the national security minister the power to set policy regarding the "duration of cases".
"Everything we warned of is happening," Yesh Atid MK and former senior police official Yoav Segalovitz said.
"The attested ox did not disappoint," he added regarding Ben-Gvir. "What we have here is an attempt by a political minister to dismantle and make a hostile takeover [of the police], and if it passes the police will be spray painted with political color," Segalovitz said.
The session was held in a special committee that was formed in order to pass the Police Law. The committee chairman, Likud MK Ofir Katz, argued that it did not make sense for the national security minister to bear full responsibility for the police's failures, but not have the authority to have power over the police. He gave as an example the fact that Ben-Gvir's policy that major transportation arteries may not be blocked during protests, was not carried out on the ground.
Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon said during the debate that the law as it stood opened a window for the minister to make concrete operational demands during events such as protests, and that the law needed to include a section that stated that the police were independent and acted according to the rule of law as interpreted by legal authorities.
Ben-Gvir conduct brings Israel Police into chaos
The debate was held in the midst of controversy over Ben-Gvir's conduct in recent days.
A number of media outlets reported on Monday that the national security minister had contacted at least two assistant chiefs during the protests to express his displeasure with their "soft" handling of the events. Assistant-chief is one rank below the police commissioner, and Ben-Gvir's actions bypassed the commissioner and the chain of command. Commissioner Koby Shabtai in response directed the assistant chiefs not to answer the national security minister, and instead redirect him to the commissioner, according to the reports.
Ben-Gvir is also in the midst of a spat with Attorney-General Gali Baharv-Miara over her intervention in his decision to announce on Thursday that Tel Aviv district commander Ami Eshed will be removed from his position, partly due to his decision to allow protestors to block the Ayalon Highway. Baharav-Miara froze the decision in order to check its legality.
Ben-Gvir in response sent a spiteful letter to the attorney-general, saying that he did not trust her. The national security minister claimed that she was intentionally acting to trip up both him and Knesset members from his Otzma Yehudit party. He also petitioned the High Court to allow him to hire private representation for the ongoing court proceedings over appeals that were filed by a number of civil organizations against the first section of the Police Law.
The attorney-general by law represents ministers in court. High Court justice Yizhak Amit ruled on Tuesday that Ben-Gvir needed special permission from the attorney-general herself in order to receive private representation – a request that Baharav-Miara had denied.