Israel's Top Court to Hear Petitions Against Law Subordinating Police to Far-right Minister

Petitioners – including the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee – argue that the amendment is unconstitutional

June 18th, 03AM June 18th, 03AM

The High Court of Justice will hear several petitions Tuesday against National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, including one that challenges a law subordinating the police to the minister.

The amendment to the Police Ordinance law that was passed at Ben-Gvir's request, subordinates the police commissioner to the minister and gives the latter the power to intervene in the police's policy on investigations. The petition will be heard by an expanded panel of nine justices.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has largely sided with the petitioners, arguing that the provision enabling the minister to intervene in investigations should be overturned, while the rest of the law should either be overturned or interpreted in a way that would prevent Ben-Gvir from intervening in police decisions. The court has already issued an injunction barring Ben-Gvir from intervening in police work, but over the last two weeks, the state prosecution wrote in a brief to the court, that he has continued intervening in operational decisions by senior police officers and is thereby violating the law.

The petitioners – who include the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and other groups – argued that the amendment is unconstitutional. The state prosecution agreed, saying in its brief that the amendment "creates an unbalanced system of government that enables politicization of the use of the police force."

The provision allowing ministerial intervention in investigations should be overturned "in light of the severe harm it does to the law enforcement system's independence," it continued. As for the other provisions, it said, "they are unconstitutional and should be overturned unless the court interprets them in a way that ensures the protection of human rights and prevents the politicization of the police's work."

Ben-Gvir's view is that the independence of the police and the other security services is what truly endangers democracy, whereas subordinating the police to the national security minister and allowing the minister to set policy are "the lifeblood of democracy." He has argued in the past that "ministers have political motives, but these do not undermine their right and their duty to their voters to implement the policies on the basis of which they were elected."

In fact, he continued, "it's actually the independence of the security services and the police, as reflected in their lack of subordination to the elected government, and the latter's inability to restrain their activities that constitute a threat to democracy."

In an unusual move, the prosecution last week submitted a letter to the court that Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai had sent to Baharav-Miara. In it, he detailed a series of incidents in which Ben-Gvir went around him to intervene directly in the decisions of police major generals, who are one rung below the commissioner. Shabtai wrote that in defiance of both his position and that of the security cabinet, Ben-Gvir pushed his candidate to be the next police commissioner, Deputy Commissioner Avshalom Peled, and the Southern District police chief, Amir Cohen, not to allocate officers to guard trucks carrying humanitarian aid from Jordan to the Gaza Strip. In another case, Ben-Gvir intervened in a decision to suspend police officers who had attacked worshippers at Mount Meron, thereby subverting Shabtai's authority.

The prosecution's brief termed such incidents "gross violations of the law and illegal intervention." Ben-Gvir, however, told the court that Shabtai's letter is "false and deceptive." He also attached a letter he had written to Baharav-Miara assailing her decision to submit Shabtai's letter to the court.

"The fact that you saw fit to act as you did with regard to this letter is unacceptable and very worrying," he wrote. "It subverts the authority you have been given, contradicts the way you are supposed to behave and makes clear that your entire goal is to undermine my ability to function as a minister, out of unacceptable motives, and to influence the court's decision in a manipulative and unacceptable manner." The nine justices who will hear the case are acting High Court President Uzi Vogelman, Isaac Amit, Noam Sohlberg, Yosef Elron, Yael Willner, Ofer Grosskopf, Alex Stein, Gila Canfy Steinitz and Yechiel Meir Kasher.

2024-06-18T00:06:29Z dg43tfdfdgfd