Handing a militia to Ben-Gvir is one step closer to the abyss
In light of the breathtaking events that continue to engulf Israel, one might be forgiven for feeling somewhat dizzy and finding it difficult to make sense of them all.
One reason for this is that the country has never before experienced a government that is so determined to so rapidly destroy its very democratic fabric, while carelessly sowing the seeds of disruption and division as it does so.
It has embarked on a blitz of 144 bills for the Knesset to vote on, some of which are designed to have fundamental and detrimental effects on the very democratic character of Israel.
These developments are characterized by the immaturity, brutality, haste, and greed of a government that perceives winning an election as a license not only to pursue the policies they promised their voters, which would be completely legitimate, but to change the very rules of the game and set Israel on the path to dictatorship and the silencing of all opposition.
But this sixth government presided over by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also a chaotic one that makes decisions on a whim.
Nothing is more illustrative of this than the “decision” to form a national guard that would be a new law-enforcement body operating independently of all other branches of the security forces.
Even more terrifying is the fact that this new body, if and when it is implemented, will operate under the purview of far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Once again, like so many of this government’s destructive, power-grabbing “reforms,” this move is being hurried through to satisfy one of the coalition’s loose cannons and effectively amounts to nothing less than a criminal act.
In a highly militarized country that is one of the world’s biggest spenders on security, it is more than reasonable to question the need for yet another security body, and to seek to properly scrutinize the proposal.
All that the government is prepared to reveal, however, is that it has established a committee to consider such a security organization but it will not discuss its structure or its remit — hardly reassuring. As with all of the plans the government is attempting to rush through, there is no transparency and decisions are being made on the hoof — in this case to appease Ben-Gvir so that his party will support a brief pause in the implementation of anti-democratic legislation aimed at weakening the role of the judiciary.
The idea of a national guard is not an Israeli invention, nor has it been dreamed up by Ben-Gvir. For more than two centuries, governments around the world have formed such organizations to support their regular security forces, mainly as a reserve or backup force for the regular army and, sometimes, the police.
However, Israel has no need for such a force, as it has a very active military reserve comprising all of those who previously served as conscripts or stayed on for further service, including those who have served with the Border Guards which is a unit within the police force.
The entire saga raises questions about Netanyahu’s judgment and his suitability for the job of prime minister.
Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that many eyebrows have been raised and suspicions voiced regarding the true intentions behind handing such a force to the most extreme elements within Israel’s current coalition government.
It would be a move that appears to be a point-blank ransom payment merely to gain the far right’s support for a brief pause to the progress of the anti-democratic legislation.
The entire saga raises questions about Netanyahu’s judgment, his suitability for the job of prime minister, and the suitability of most of his ministers to serve in government.
First, the prime minister sacked his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, for suggesting the progress of the contentious legislation be put on hold for a few weeks. Then, when tens of thousands of protesters spontaneously took to the streets in anger over the sacking, Netanyahu granted Gallant’s request but did not reinstate him until a week later. And to get Ben-Gvir to agree to the pause, the prime minister paid him off with the promise of assembling his longed-for national guard — what a mess.
When considering the idea of forming a national guard, it would be utter folly to ignore the context in which such a proposal is taking place, who is demanding it, and under whose authority it is expected to operate.
It is not only Ben-Gvir, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and their ilk from the outlandish, messianic far right who claim that the security forces are leftist and under the thumb of the Supreme Court, and consequently cannot fulfill their role of providing security for Israelis; so do Netanyahu and his close allies. Their claims amount to a dangerous combination of being exceedingly laughable but at the same time deeply sinister.
This is an attempt to form not a national guard but a militia answerable to Ben-Gvir and, through him, the most extreme and violent of the settlers in the occupied West Bank, who have already been operating as a law unto themselves for many years.
And while on certain issues Netanyahu would like to be perceived as being forced to comply with far right elements of the coalition against his will and judgment, simply to ensure the survival of his government, this is not necessarily the case when it comes to establishing a national guard.
There is an agreement between the prime minister and the even more zealous members of his coalition, although not one anchored in any reality, that the police have been too soft on the protesters, to the point that Ben-Gvir leaned on Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai to remove the commander of Tel Aviv District, Amichai Eshed, from office for that very spurious reason. The attempt was prevented only by the intervention of Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara.
In truth, and I have witnessed this myself over the past two weeks, the police should be praised for facilitating peaceful protests with only a few incidents of excessive force.
Just imagine handing a militia to someone like Ben-Gvir, who has been indicted 53 times and convicted seven times on charges including incitement to racism against Arabs, interfering with a police officer in the course of his duty, and supporting an outlawed terrorist group (Kach).
Just imagine the horrendous consequences of Ben-Gvir’s militia being let loose against peaceful protesters. They are out in the streets to defend Israel’s democracy, and against Palestinian Israelis whose loyalty is always questioned, or against those who live under occupation in the West Bank. This would reinforce the violence by settlers in which he, and some of those close to him, have been previously involved.
These are chilling thoughts and Netanyahu needs to ask himself this: Is this a price worth paying for him to avoid justice being done in his corruption trial? The answer to that is probably self-evident to the rest of us.
- Yossi Mekelberg