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Will new law prevent – or create – a police state in Israel?

"Ben Gvir law" is "dangerous, fascist," one Knesset member tells ALL ISRAEL NEWS; Ben Gvir calls it "a blessing for democracy"

Head of the Jewish Power party MK Itamar Ben Gvir and Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai at a special committee in the Knesset, Jerusalem, Dec. 14, 2022. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Deliberations continued on Wednesday at the Knesset over a controversial law being proposed by the anticipated incoming coalition that would put the Israel police under the jurisdiction of a new position, the National Security minister.

The “Ben Gvir Law,” named for its author – far-right Knesset Member Itamar Ben Gvir, the presumptive minister of National Security – has raised concern among opposition members in the Knesset and minority groups who believe the law will turn Israel into a police state. 

The head of the Jewish Power party argues that the bill amends an antiquated ordinance from 1926. 

“Many things have changed since then and the country has advanced, but this outdated ordinance remains in place. Our proposal now comes to align Israel with other democratic countries where it is the minister in charge of the police force who determines policy, outlines his positions, and is granted the authority needed to implement them,” he said. “In the current situation, the National Security Minister bears the responsibility without holding authority. This amendment to the ordinance is a blessing for democracy.”

He added, “only in police states does the commissioner work on his own or is not subordinate.”

Critics say it is precisely the opposite and, instead, the law would create a police state. 

“This law is a dangerous law, it is a fascist law,” Knesset Member Ofer Cassif told ALL ISRAEL NEWS. “It actually, in practice, eliminates the distinction that must exist between the police and government.” 

Ben Gvir – who served neither in the army nor police – would become the de facto police chief and also be in charged of the border police’s operations in the West Bank, which is currently under the Israeli military. 

This is an expansion of the minister's powers over any time in Israel's history and allows the minister to set policy and determine which crimes will be pursued and which will be ignored.

Cassif said that the law would create a situation in which the minister would be able to use the police to target political or ideological opponents. He would be able to approve or deny permits for protests at his discretion.

“The coming minister, unfortunately, is a Jewish fascist and fundamentalist. That means that he sees, in any component which is not Jewish, a risk or at least an alien,” Cassif said. “He’s not going to persecute those who, according to him, assist Israel and the settlers, etc. But he is going to persecute worship.”

Ironically, it could be Knesset members like far-left Cassif of the Joint List party who will now protect the interests of Christians supporters of Israel should they be threatened by the new government, he said. 

“There is a serious risk for everybody who doesn’t accept the political and religious line of Ben Gvir and his companions. Everybody is on the list. That’s the nature of fascism: If you’re not with us, you are against us. And that's what's going to happen, especially if this law is going to be enacted. That’s the reason we give a fight here.”

At a fiery debate at the Knesset on Wednesday, members of the incoming coalition joined Cassif in offering their arguments. The bill passed a first reading earlier this week and needs to pass a second and third reading in order to become law. 

With a majority of 64 members in the expected incoming coalition, however, the law is expected to pass. 

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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