It’s hard not to be struck by the sudden mutual admiration forming between Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara and National Security Minister-designate MK Itamar Ben-Gvir. It has reached the point that the minister has acceded and is now willing to soften wording on the law he is formulating for himself.
Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari believes that the “softened” bill still “does not properly balance between the independence of the police and the powers of the minister.” She points out the contradiction between Ben-Gvir’s demand to set the length of time allotted for investigations and the clause in the Criminal Code that states that this power is relegated to the attorney general’s office.
And in her innocence, she even dreams of leaving the investigations policy in the sole purview of the police. But, as the saying goes, “man [or woman] proposes and God disposes.” Ben-Gvir, as God’s representative on earth, responded that he believes that the attorney general’s office is actually part of the opposition. That is, they can go shove it. All he wants to do is make an impact, to set policy, no more.
But it’s important to understand what that “policy” really means. To Ben-Gvir policy involves investigations, indictments, opening or closing cases, the amount of time an investigation will take as well as oversight of the work of the police and the level of their preparedness.
For example, let’s say that the commissioner, in accordance with his powers, decides to launch an investigation against a corrupt politician. He could then encounter, in the corridors of the National Police Headquarters, the “policy” of the minister, which will make clear to him that the issue is not its top priority. The commissioner will insist and say that by law he must launch an investigation if he learns that a crime has been committed. You’re right, the “policy” will say. “Take two weeks and wrap it up.”
Because that is in its power. But how can such a complex investigation be wrapped up in two weeks, the commissioner will ask angrily. If you can’t conclude the investigation in two weeks, maybe you shouldn’t launch it at all, the “policy” will respond. The new law does require the minister to consult the attorney general, but it doesn’t require him to accept the attorney general’s advice. Good thing that Ben-Gvir quickly assured everyone that he did not intend to be a super-commissioner. He only wants to be the commissioner.
This deception has already been exposed during the legislative process, which supposedly represents a frank and proper dialogue between the gatekeepers, who still believe in their ability to guard what already appears to be a museum of democracy, and the bully who does not recognize their authority, considers them representatives of the opposition, leftists, traitors, and perhaps even terror supporters. It is no different than the dialogue between a frightened client and the head of a protection racket over the client’s payment.
After all, the attorney general doesn’t really believe that “softened” wording will save the remnants of police independence and stop the minister from picking through its interrogations. She did make clear that ahead of the law’s second and third rounds of legislation in the Knesset she may add a few more comments. But meanwhile during the actual negotiations with Ben-Gvir, she has already legitimized the existing formulation. Is this the law that she will be able to defend in the High Court of Justice? This is where the second and most important deception comes in. The neutered High Court, threatened by the override clause, will no longer be relevant.
This law no longer only strikes a blow at democracy – an expression that lost its relevance with Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to the premiership – it is a law that will regulate corruption and the hierarchy of organized crime in this country according to the minister’s policy.
The attorney general must not become the set manager of Ben-Gvir’s law and therefore its partner. The attorney general’s role is to state in no uncertain terms that the law demolishes the separation of powers, grants dangerous authority to a bully and turns the police into a political militia. Yes, gatekeeping is a risky and thankless job.