The real prize for Ben Gvir – his own National Guard
While everyone in Israel's new governmental coalition has been busy pushing judicial reforms, as well as other bills, with the intent of changing the character of Israel, to one of a more religious, right-wing nature, no one, now has any doubts that National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has been laser focused on the creation of a National Guard – one which will take direct orders from him and will be, what others are calling, his own private militia.
We know this because, in a closed meeting with Ben Gvir which took all day on Monday until the prime minister appeared on the evening news to announce he would temporarily suspend all advancement of the reforms, the final outcome was that Ben Gvir would support the delay, in exchange for being granted a National Guard.
In short, judicial reforms – and the passage of other legislation to change the character of the nation – is really not the prize or the goal. The pot, at the end of the rainbow, for Ben Gvir is to be given full authority to order National Guard troops, under his command, to execute whatever it is he wants. Once he was able to pull off that feat, he knew he was on his way to getting all the rest.
But what is the meaning and implication of a National Guard? And why are the Israeli police against such an idea?
According to a recent article in Haaretz, “Senior members of Israel’s police, including Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, strongly oppose the formation of a new national guard that will be subordinate to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.”
One senior police officer called it akin to “owning his own police.” But what is most troubling to police and others, is that little is known or defined as to how such a National Guard would operate: What kind of structure would be put into place? How would it function? What kind of authority would it have, as opposed to the police? Who would be subordinate to whom? And why does Israel even need two police forces? Finally, how much of a budget would be required for its maintenance? Who else must approve such a bill?
These are all questions which must be thoroughly discussed, understood and agreed upon by many parties who, at the moment, do not seem to be throwing their support towards the establishment of a National Guard.
Of course, none of this can come about without a full vote by the Israeli Knesset, and that could end up taking a lot of time before any legislation even gets to them. And even after a full vote, the attorney general has the right to opine that this bill is not legally viable, and that means it would likely end up going to the Supreme Court.
At the moment, Ben Gvir is already at odds with Israel's Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, as they clashed over the recent dismissal of Tel Aviv police commander, Ami Eshed. His response to her was, “I don’t trust you, your considerations or your decisions.” Ben Gvir said this because Baharav-Miara, in reaction to his dismissal of Eshed, came to the decision that such an act was illegal, causing her to freeze the dismissal. But she only froze it after inquiring from the police commissioner “what preceded his decision to dismiss Eshed? He told her that Ben-Gvir had compelled him to do so.”
Bahara-Miara has had to confront a number of petitions filed with the High Court in opposition to Ben Gvir who refused to meet with her after she requested that the two of them discuss implications. Because she was the person who would represent him in court against these petitions, it would have been in his best interest to meet with her, however, he refused and stated that he intends to represent himself in court.
All of this points to a significant lack of support for Ben Gvir’s aspirational policies which, again, must be detailed, discussed, tweaked and voted upon.
The question is, will there even be enough time, support, money and consensus for the desire of a National Guard to be made a reality? It doesn’t appear that way.
What has essentially happened is that Netanyahu has bought himself a bit of time. This was likely in the hopes of reducing the growing heated tensions which spilled onto Israel’s streets, almost daily, accompanied by the fear that violence would occur to the point of a civil war. There was really no choice. The flame of passions had to be turned down, and so it was. But for how long?
Passover is fast approaching and most everything will work off of a holiday schedule, meaning that this 'can gets kicked down the road' until the next Knesset plenum (assembly) which is sometime around April 30.
Once that happens, if there can be no compromise on reforms that everyone is willing to accept, it’s almost certain that protests will resume in full force. Because this crisis, which is causing Israel’s democracy to hang in the balance, is not something that citizens take lightly. There is just too much at stake.
Once the Knesset does reconvene, the prime minister will have to figure out whether he wants to be tied to a coalition member whose main demand is a non-starter for everyone else. Even so, Ben Gvir is a coalition member who has the power to bring down the government and hold everyone in it hostage until he is given the type of authority and power which he so craves.
Yes, at that point, a decision will have to be made concerning the recreation of a different Israel than the one we all know and love.
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.