Former Chiefs Slam Proposal to Give Ben Gvir More Power Over Police

By Shmuel Smith

Minister of Public Security Omer Barlev (right) and Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai. Flash90

YERUSHALAYIM — A reported provision in the proposed coalition agreement that would expand the public security minister’s authority over the police drew vehement protests from former chiefs of police on Tuesday.

Echoing the denunciations by the center and left-wing parties of the likely appointment of far-right Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben Gvir to the post that normally oversees the Israel police, former Yerushalayim police chief Arieh Amit warned that it would threaten democracy.

“There is one person whose role it is to manage and guide the [police], whose job it is to uphold the law and guard the state from chaos, free from political considerations, and that man is the [police] commissioner,” Amit said. “He guards democracy and guards against terror, and now they want to change things.”

“Having absolute independence to run the organization allows him to do that, and it is protected by law. But now the next [government] wants to change that,” he added, warning that the reforms will turn the police commissioner into a “puppet” and the force into a “tool” of the state.

“If the police force collapses, there will be no democracy in this country,” Amit said.

According to existing law, the minister can recommend who should be police commissioner, approve appointments of senior officers, and dismiss officers. The minister can also formulate certain regulations, such as those regarding obtaining a gun license.

Haaretz quoted Likud sources as saying that the incoming government will pass legislation granting the public security minister the ability to set policy for the police and oversee police budgets.

However, the sources noted that it will not be specifically mentioned in coalition agreements but rather covered by a more general clause granting powers to the public security minister.

Likud has declined to comment specifically on the negotiations but said that some of the reports were not true.

Otzma Yehudit said in a statement, “We do not address what is happening in the negotiation rooms, but we also assure readers of Haaretz that we are working day and night to restore the rule of law to the street.”

Earlier on Tuesday, former police commissioner Assaf Hefetz told Army Radio that “there can’t be a situation where the minister can give orders to the police that are absolutely political.”
“In a democratic state, political involvement with the police needs to be respectful and with boundaries, but with a minister able to ask questions,” he said.

The criticism comes in contrast to the reaction of Kobi Shabtai, who currently serves as police commissioner. After news of Ben Gvir’s demand for the job of public security minister become a reality following the right-religious election victory, Shabtai expressed a different view of the democratic process. When asked whether he’d have any problem with the incendiary Ben Gvir, Shabtai said, “they will choose who they choose, we’re in a democratic nation.”

“I have no problem with anyone,” he added. However, he has not commented publicly on the proposed expansion of the minister’s powers.

On Monday, Hefetz told Ynet that if he were the incumbent police commissioner, he would resign rather than submit to such changes.

“I would not stay in the police for a minute longer if they stripped me of my powers,” he said. “The police, unlike the army, must be independent. Otherwise there is damage to democracy.”

Outgoing Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said he hoped Commissioner Shabtai would not resign if the reported changes are made.

“I heard the calls for the police commissioner to resign,” Barlev told Army Radio. “He absolutely must not resign. He is the responsible adult. He has already worked with two ministers, he has experience. And if, G-d forbid, he resigns, they will bring in a ‘yes man,’ which would be terrible.”

“The responsibility and authority of the minister is to set policy. Only someone who doesn’t understand this thinks that their powers should be increased. We don’t need this — not at the commissioner’s expense, nor at anyone else’s expense,” Barlev said.

Meanwhile, Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen told the Knesset plenum in his first speech there on Tuesday his party will make the personal safety of Israel’s citizens its priority.

Referring in particular to the crime-plagued southern Negev region, Cohen called it “a situation where the state is violating the most basic and unwritten contract between it and its citizens, which is their personal safety.”

“The reality in which my brothers and sisters, residents of the Negev, live in is a sense of fear and terror of what is to come, with constant anxiety for the future of our children,” he said.

“The Negev has even deteriorated into a situation where business owners pay a head tax, a modern tax, a protection tax in order to survive the day of their labor,” Cohen added.

Ben Gvir on Tuesday reiterated on Tuesday in the Knesset that his six-seat party will not join the emerging government unless it has control of the Ministry for the Development of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galil.

“We must invest there and without our ability to make it happen, we simply will not enter the government,” Ben Gvir said.

The demand is problematic, as media reports say that Shas has been promised the ministry.

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