Ministers approve major budget cut to pave way for forming Ben Gvir’s national guard

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After a heated discussion at their weekly cabinet meeting, ministers voted on Sunday in favor of a major budget cut across all ministries to fund the national guard that National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is pushing hard for .

The controversial force, which will report directly to the far-right minister and is tasked with tackling “nationalist crime” and terrorism, and “restoring governance where necessary” is expected to have 2,000 service members. A timeline for creating such a force is unclear, although it is likely to take months.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Ben Gvir last week that he would bring the issue to a vote at the next cabinet meeting, in exchange for the far-right minister remaining in government despite strong opposition against allowing Netanyahu’s pause on the judicial reform legislation. dialogue with the opposition.

According to Hebrew media reports, many ministers in the cabinet opposed the 1.5 percent cut to the budgets of all ministries, which would give Ben Gvir’s ministry about 1 billion ($278 million). They said it was irresponsible and would attract public criticism, but they voted in favor anyway.

Finance Ministry officials said they can find other funding solutions within several months to avoid the sweeping cuts, criticizing Ben Gvir for demanding the money immediately, Ynet news site reported.

During the meeting, Information Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud) accused Ben Gvir of “wanting everything here and now at the expense of other ministries,” with the far-right minister angrily backing away until Netanyahu intervened.

The Leader of the Opposition, Yair Lapid, criticized the government’s priorities as “things and frivolous” and criticized the ministers for voting to “fund a private army of thugs for the TikTok comic”.

The government “has been there for three months and the only thing it is interested in is trampling on democracy and promoting the delusional fantasies of delusional people,” Lapid said.

Protesters gathered in Tel Aviv against the right-wing Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir and against the proposed establishment of a national guard on March 29, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

A chorus of former senior police commanders have warned against the plan, including former police chief Moshe Karadi who said Ben Gvir could use it to launch a “coup”. Similarly, civil rights groups and opposition politicians have expressed serious concerns about the proposal to bring such a force under the direct control of a government minister, arguing that it could politicize policing and undermine the principle of equality in law enforcement.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai warned in a letter to Ben Gvir last week that the separation of the new force from the police will seriously harm public security and create chaos in law enforcement, warning of “disastrous consequences.”

He said there was no reason to establish a new body with powers and areas of authority similar to the Israel Police, adding that no concrete benefits have been set out although the move could have “very heavy costs that could harm to do for the personal security of the citizen. .”

Warning that the new situation would lead to a lack of clarity regarding the sharing of authority between the bodies, Shabtai said the step “is just a waste of resources, doubling the number of headquarters, and gambling on a model that does not exist. created and is of no use.”

Ben Gvir’s office dismissed Shabtai’s letter as part of “ego wars” with the police, saying that the “police bureaucracy” was holding back the plan to establish a national guard as part of the police and that the separation of the new force was his way to speed up the transition. .

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara also sounded the alarm on Sunday, telling the government that there is a “legal obstacle” to the current version of the proposal and that the police can deal with the challenges they face without having a competing body. need them.

A group of anti-government demonstrators play with the national guard forces proposed by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir before a protest against a judicial reform planned by the government, in Tel Aviv, on April 1, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Haaretz news site reported on Sunday, citing unnamed security officials, that the head of the Shin Bet internal security service, Ronen Bar, has also opposed in closed meetings the formation of the national guard.

One of the candidates who is in charge of the national guard, according to Haaretz, is Col. Recently retired Avinoam Emunah, who was filmed last year telling soldiers before an operation near the Gaza Strip: “Most of the time you will see them fleeing, kill them as they flee.”

The Walla news site reported that Netanyahu mentioned another choice during the cabinet discussions – Gal Hirsch, a former IDF brigadier general. The report said that the name of ex-police Maj. Gen. Uri Bar-Lev also up.

Ben Gvir, as minister of national security, has repeatedly been directly involved in the policing of mass demonstrations against the government’s judicial reform programme, including telling the police which highways to make sure are left open during of the protests, discussing the crowd dispersal methods, and visiting the police headquarters and demonstrations in progress.

Channel 12 reported Saturday that within the ranks of the police, the plans for a national guard are seen as a “disaster.”

The national guard unit established by the previous government in 2022 is currently under the authority of the Israel Police and consists of only a few hundred personnel mostly derived from the Border Police, itself a gendarmerie force.

The proposal says the new national guard force will consist of “dedicated, regular forces and tactical brigades” spread across the country.

The draft resolution was published days after Netanyahu promised to give it a vote on Sunday in Ben Gvir’s ire to agree to the suspension of the Main Legislature for a judicial shakeup after mass protests, strikes, and riots against the plan. The government is currently in talks with the opposition to try to reach a negotiated compromise on the matter.

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