Israel’s New Public Security Minister Isn’t So Different From His Predecessor

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev at the Knesset in June.
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

I have no doubt that Omer Bar-Lev is a man full of good intentions, and we can't cast doubt on his decency either. I should also disclose that I worked with his father, whom I was fond of, and was a witness for his will. But it’s doubtful that Omer Bar-Lev understands his role as public security minister, which is also supposed to represent a worldview.

Judging by his conduct in the Khalida Jarrar case, in which a member of the Palestinian parliament wasn’t released from an Israeli prison to attend her daughter’s funeral, and his explanation in a Haaretz op-ed responding to a previous one by me, there doesn’t seem to be a need for a public security minister. A robot, machine or obedient bureaucrat would suffice. And Bar-Lev has fulfilled that role with distinction.

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Knesset member Aida Touma-Sliman brought to his attention that the daughter of the Palestinian MP had died, and he promised to look into it. He promised that if the matter was within his authority, he would let Jarrar leave prison for the funeral. The new government is indeed a government of change: Bar-Lev’s predecessor as public security minister, Amir Ohana, wouldn’t have promised that.

That’s the heart of the matter. Bar-Lev lifted a finger. He isn’t Ohana, after all. Unlike his predecessor, Bar-Lev is humane. But somehow, it never happens. Things never work out. It’s not the right timing or the right case. And then there’s the law, you know, the regulations – certainly when it comes to the occupation.

The result: barbaric conduct toward a grieving mother, a political prisoner who contrary to the false propaganda is behind bars for her political activity and is due to be released in two months. So why do we need Bar-Lev? With Ohana in the job, the result would have been the same but without the sanctimony, self-righteousness and pretense.

That’s always how it is with the Zionist left. If only it were possible. If  only it could have been worked out, the left would have finished off the occupation long ago. It just didn’t happen. Somehow, it didn’t work out.

The much-maligned Ohana is preferable to Bar-Lev. At least the former public security minister tried to fulfill his worldview as minister. He tried to challenge the laws and regulations to fulfill his beliefs, and he brought his influence to bear (for the worse, in my view) on the police.

That’s his role. Bar-Lev hasn’t even been trying. His ministry’s legal adviser told him that it wasn’t possible. The assistant to the prison commissioner wrote that it didn’t cross the minimum conditions, so the answer was no. What matters is that he lifted a finger. He lifted a finger and resumed his routine.

Jarrar has been forced to mourn alone at Damon Prison. I’m sure that Bar-Lev thinks it’s inhumane. I have no doubt that he also understands the magnitude of the absurdity that in two months she’ll be released anyway.

Prison regulations actually let the minister give prison furloughs, but the authority has been delegated to the prison commissioner. The terms were specially designed for apartheid: There is almost no way to grant a Palestinian prisoner a furlough.

But Dan Yakir, the legal adviser to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, says that if asked, the local military commander could have commuted Jarrar’s sentence and had her immediately released. For that, Bar-Lev would have had to do more than lift a finger, he would have had to take the initiative, and apparently that’s too much for him.

If Bar-Lev has a viewpoint and values, he at least should have said something about the rules that don’t permit the release of a mother mourning her daughter. This would have indicated to the prison service that we now have a minister with a different outlook. But Bar-Lev lifted a finger and said nothing.

When reading Bar-Lev’s op-ed in Hebrew, Haaretz reader Dr. Ilan Gal was reminded of Hanoch Levin’s children’s book “Uncle Max’s Journey.” Max looks for the people responsible for evil in the world and is sent from a bureaucrat to the emperor and from the emperor to a dragon – and each blames the other.

“All of us are performing at the circus this evening / The king is a clown, the moon is a flashlight / The crying isn’t crying, and the pain isn’t pain / So laugh out loud – and don’t take it to heart.”

But how can you not laugh or take it to heart?

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