The Israeli government approved Sunday the formation of a national guard, which opponents warn would function as a “private militia” of firebrand National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir who had pushed for the decision.
A committee comprised of members of “Israel’s security agencies” would propose within 90 days if the police “or another body” would be in charge of the new guard, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
“The national guard will deal with national emergency situations such as the disturbances that occurred” in Israeli cities during a May 2021 conflict with Palestinian militants in Gaza, the statement added, while noting the committee would also be asked to define the new agency’s responsibilities.
A statement from Ben-Gvir’s office said the guard, which would operate under his ministry, would deal with “emergency scenarios, nationalistic crime, terror, and strengthening sovereignty.”
The move was a condition set by Ben-Gvir, leader of the far-right Jewish Power party, to agree to freeze the government’s controversial judicial reforms following months of protest and a crippling general strike on Monday.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid called Sunday’s government decision an “extremist fantasy of delusional people” and slammed a separate decision to cut budgets from other ministries “to fund Ben-Gvir’s private militia.”
Former public security minister Omer Bar-Lev, who had advanced the formation of a national guard in 2022 as part of the border police, said it was already that force’s responsibility to be dealing with the issues Ben-Gvir was tasking the national guard with.
“The thought that a private militia would be formed by an embarrassing minister who lacks understanding and was convicted of support of a terror group and incitement to racism is shocking,” Bar-Lev wrote of Ben-Gvir on Twitter.
Earlier on Sunday, Ben-Gvir spoke of the need to use the guard to combat “illegal arms, organized crime, and agricultural terror”, the latter referring to damage to fields, produce and farming tools the minister blames Arabs for.
The force will be comprised of 1,800 members who will “bring back personal security” to Israelis, Ben-Gvir said in the statement relayed by his office.
Ben-Gvir had been charged more than 50 times in his youth with incitement to violence or hate speech. He was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terror group and inciting racism.
Tamir Hayman, director of the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, called the idea of forming a national guard “positive” but said the text approved by the government “would weaken Israeli police.”
In a tweet, Hayman noted his think-tank had supported such a move but only “as long as it would constitute part of the police force and operate under its authority.”
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