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Ben Gvir to ask for 2,000-member National Guard force in Sunday’s Cabinet meeting

The requested force will focus on nationalist crimes, terrorism and ‘restoring governance’

Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir seen during a discussion and a vote in the Knesset assembly hall in Jerusalem, Mar. 27, 2023. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has prepared a proposal for a 2,000-member National Guard force that would fall under his administration. 

Ben Gvir reportedly will submit the proposal at the next Cabinet meeting to be held on Sunday. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly promised a new National Guard force under the authority of Ben Gvir’s office in exchange for a promise that the minister’s six-member party, Jewish Power, would not not leave the coalition. 

Netanyahu’s government comprises six parties: Likud, Shas, the Religious Zionist party, United Torah Judaism, Jewish Power and Noam. The bloc of parties won 64 of the parliament’s 120 seats in the November elections. The coalition would lose its majority with Jewish Power. 

Ben Gvir publicly opposed halting the coalition’s multi-faceted judicial reform legislation which has advanced through the Knesset over the last two months, while Netanyahu reportedly was considering the pause for some time. 

Ben Gvir’s establishing a National Guard force was part of the initial coalition agreement between Likud and the Jewish Power party, but it had not been advanced until this week. 

The formation of a new National Guard force somewhat resembles the creation of a National Guard unit within Israel’s Border Police in 2021, in response to rioting during Operation Guardian of the Walls. 

The exact powers and jurisdiction of the National Security Ministry’s National Guard are still not clear. 

Ben Gvir said the force would be used to fight crime in Arab Israeli communities and to fight “extortion in areas with criminal organizations and mixed cities.” 

He referred to the violence between Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis during Operation Guardian of the Walls, as an example. 

Police Chief Kobi Shabtai said the force should fall under the jurisdiction of the Israel Police. 

“This cannot be ‘the Ben Gvir guard force’ or a private militia,” Shabtai reportedly said. 

A Border Police senior officer reminded Channel 12 news that Israel already has a National Guard. 

“There is a National Guard under the Police under the command of Brig.-Gen. Meir Eliyahu, a senior officer in the Border Police,” the source said. 

“They do everything,” the source said. “They are a special, combat, skilled and professional reinforcement force at the highest levels.” 

Shabtai appears to be echoing the concerns of critics who warn that Ben Gvir has a history of convictions for incitement racism and nationalistic rhetoric. These critics fear the minister could use his National Guard to discriminate against Israeli Arabs. 

Ben Gvir pointed out that the previous government under Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid also tried to create a Civil National Guard, passing an initial budget of $392 million for around 1,800 employees. 

Israel’s then-National Security Council and the Public Security Ministry under Bennett, proffered a plan in June 2022, making a pitch for a force composed of active-duty soldiers, reserve officers and volunteers trained by the Border Police. Bennett’s new National Guard was proposed in order to help fight terror in the face of a rise in violent attacks leading up to Operation Break the Wave. 

“Capturing the terrorists is not enough. We are in a new phase in the war on terror,” Bennett said at the time. “The highest-priority task for the Israeli government is to restore personal security to the citizens of Israel.” 

In order to make a National Guard a reality, Ben Gvir’s proposal will have to be approved by the Cabinet. Afterwards, Israel’s Supreme Court will have the power to strike down the proposal. 

Prof. Amichai Cohen of the Israel Democracy Institute explained that there are several “constitutional questions” regarding the creation of such a force. 

“The first question is the question of authority. What powers will be given to these National Guardsmen?” he said. “The second constitutional question is the question of subordination: Is this a framework that is subject to the existing police framework?” 

Cohen said that giving an elected politician civilian-policing authority is problematic. 

“Until now, the State of Israel has been very careful not to give ministers powers and operational control and policing forces,” he said. 

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel wrote to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara on Tuesday, expressing concern about the establishment of the force under Ben Gvir. 

“A police force subject to a political official is a clear and present danger to democracy and human rights,” the organization said. 

Some political analysts see the move as a ploy by Netanyahu, who succeeded to persuade Ben Gvir to agree to halt the reform legislation, knowing that the Cabinet might not approve the creation of the force and that the High Court could strike it down in judicial review. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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