The spokesman’s office of the Israel Police is promoting National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir with an unprecedented blast of official announcements and live broadcasts that is a stark contrast to his predecessors’ customary avoidance of undue media attention.
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In official interviews, Ben-Gvir receives support from the spokesman, despite the fact there should be a clear separation between the police and the ministry. Thus, for example, police spokesman Eli Levi said that “Ben-Gvir’s appearance has created significant deterrence, mainly in the Arab sector.” As part of the minister’s promotion, in the two and a half weeks since the cabinet was sworn in the police have issued numerous joint statements with the minister’s office.
The force has issued six statements relating to Ben-Gvir, including reports of meetings with Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai with photos of the two and situation assessments with quotes from Ben-Gvir regarding the release of security prisoners. In a police announcement about Ben-Gvir’s instructing the national police chief to prevent celebrations at the home of Maher Younis, who was released Thursday after 40 years in prison, Ben-Gvir is quoted as saying “[A]ll eyes in Israel are on this event. … It is a test of our sovereignty.” The minister’s own spokesman issued an identical statement. In the parallel period during the tenure of Omer Bar-Lev, Ben-Gvir’s predecessor, the police issued only two announcements mentioning the minister who is responsible for the force: one about preparations for the Flag March in Jerusalem, the other about Bar-Lev’s first meeting with senior police commanders.
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With Bar-Lev there was a press release, three photos and a 23-second video. When it came to Ben-Gvir’s meeting with police brass, there was a convoy of police vans, musical accompaniment and a presentation of police methods and tools by the commissioner. The meeting was broadcast live by a new police broadcasting van costing millions of shekels and inaugurated at that event. At the end there was an 8-minute movie, with long statements by Ben-Gvir to police commanders. The production truck was also used during a visit by Ben-Gvir to Be’er Sheva, where he viewed police tools and talked to commanders. Journalists were not allowed in, although the broadcast showed some classified police tools. The van was not used during two recent mass events, the funeral of Rabbi Shimon Baadani in Bnei Brak and the anti-government protests in Tel Aviv.
The public support for Ben-Gvir was also expressed in official interviews. Last week Levi was interviewed by the Kan public broadcaster. Asked if there was a change since Ben-Gvir assumed office, he said he felt it had a great deterrent effect on crime, particularly in Israel’s Arab communities. “[Ben-Gvir] creates tension; he comes with a lot of energy,” the police spokesman said. He told the Ynet news website that “just as the appearance of [former Deputy Public Security Minister] Yoav Segalovitz created deterrence among criminals in Arab communities, Itamar Ben-Gvir’s appearance as national security minister has a similar effect. Every entrance of a minister, especially one with zero tolerance, with a strong and determined arm against criminals...”
Levi said similar things to Ynet a few days ago: Bar-Lev, Segalovitz and former Public Security Ministry director general Tomer Lotan, along with the commissioner, “can be credited with the greatest achievements against crime in Arab communities in recent years. However, the entrance of a new, energized minister, giving unprecedented support to policemen and spearheading changes in legislation, all this is having a deterrent effect.”
The change in relations between the police spokesman’s office and the police commissioner can be seen in a tweet by Ben-Gvir from last March, when he wrote that he “feels for Eli Levi,” whom he’s known for years as a journalist. “He is a decent and dear man, having taken on the most difficult role, to be a spokesman for a failing commissioner and an extreme leftist minister. Note the contortions and changes in versions. It’s embarrassing.”
To this must be added Shabtai’s way of taking orders from the new minister, as when he instructed district commanders to enforce Ben-Gvir’s ban on public display of the Palestinian flag that could pose a risk to public order.
In a written response, the Israel Police said it “regretted the distortion of reality: The spokesman’s office issues joint statement with other agencies we work with, in various government ministries and the defense establishment. Joint announcements about meetings, preparations and consultations with the minister in charge have been issued for many years; it’s unclear what this report is based on.”