Are we doing the math? The Times of Israel headline said Internal Security Minister Ben-Gvir will get a billion shekels to set up a national guard, which will be made up of 1,800 guards. That is over 550,000 NIS per guard. (In contrast, the US army national guard allocates around 135,000 per guard.) Training, salary, transportation, arms, office supplies and …tanks? A shiny new headquarters in East Jerusalem? All of this will supposedly be handed to Ben-Gvir in exchange for delaying the vote on judicial reform by a couple of weeks.
What will the nation get for its billion-shekel outlay? Even more pertinent a question: What would be a better way to spend a billion shekels to stop crime?
I thought the obvious place to start would be with the police, who already have an anti-organized crime campaign, created together with the previous minister, and which had already begun making modest inroads into seizing weapons. Then I would use some of the money to address the social issues, for example, education gaps, poverty and unemployment, that feed the crime organizations’ ranks, as well as the sale of illegal weapons, drugs, protection scams and more. And I would work with existing organizations that have ties to the communities and those that act to prevent violent crime.
What will the nation get for its billion-shekel outlay?
Hoping I am not the only one thinking this, I turned to chatGPT, which has access to loads of human thought on the subject. I asked: How should we spend one billion NIS to fight organized crime?
Straightaway, chatGPT told me that this is a complex issue that requires a multi-faceted approach.
It then gave me five suggestions. Here is the condensed version:
- Strengthen Law Enforcement – including adding personnel and developing specialized training.
- Targeted Investigations and Intelligence Gathering
- Community Outreach and Support — Build stronger relationships with local communities and work towards empowering them to take a stand against organized crime
- Border Control and Customs Enforcement – to prevent illegal goods and money entering the country
- Rehabilitation and Reintegration Programs
None of its suggestions are radical or new, or even less than obvious. The AI program adds: “The specific approach to combating organized crime in Israel should be based on a comprehensive analysis of the situation and ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of different initiatives.”
The program did not, by the way, tell me how to allocate that billion and change. Nonetheless, it did raise some questions about Ben-Gvir’s true motives in establishing a new national guard that fits none of the above suggestions.
The questions I hear in the media
And in truth, the questions we have been asking aloud have little to do with stopping crime and violence. The first question on the lips of commentators and analysts is: Will Bibi keep his promise to Ben-Gvir? Bibi is well known for not keeping promises, and this one would also have to pass a Knesset vote. Some bets are on the Likud “middle-roaders” – the ones who have begun to take an increasingly vocal stand for restoring relative sanity – putting a stopper in this patently insane proposal. Fingers crossed.
To what extent will ‘battling organized crime’ be a cover for a different sort of well-organized crime?
The next question is: Assuming Ben-Gvir gets this unit, which many are already calling his “private militia,” how will it be deployed? Former police chief Moshe Karadi has laid out a scenario in which Ben-Gvir will use it to stage a coup. The US has said the existence of this unit will be another chink in the already battered edifice of democracy in this country. At the very least: To what extent will “battling organized crime” be a cover for a different sort of well-organized crime?
The third question often asked is how it will function, when we have got along so far without a national guard (having a police force, border patrol and the Shabak for issues of national security). The apparent answer lies in the word used to describe so much of government and politics these days: balagan (loosely translated as mess, but implying utter chaos). It is not even clear who would be in charge, who it would answer to, or how it would recruit members, not to mention divisions of responsibility, hierarchy, coordination and how much power a minister with no experience either in the military or the police could have over this paramilitary organization.
Let’s ask this instead
But I have more questions of my own. Who worries about the rights of citizens – the ones that would be trampled should this guard actually be established?
Why should we allow the foundation of a national guard that will patently be designed to serve the desires of one minister, rather than the needs of the country?
Why are we outraged? That is not even a question.
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Right now we are in the month in which the three religions in the country have overlapping rituals. Whether you are fasting, eating the bread of affliction or dressing in your best Easter clothing, I wish you all a happy, peaceful Spring holiday.
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na’am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.