After nixing ouster of Tel Aviv top cop, AG says Ben Gvir must make new decision

Gali Baharav-Miara cites concern of a ‘causal link’ between minister’s criticism of Amichai Eshed’s handling of anti-government protests and decision to remove him from post

Chief of Israel Police's Tel Aviv district, Amichai Eshed, at the scene of a car-ramming attack in Tel Aviv, April 7, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Chief of Israel Police's Tel Aviv district, Amichai Eshed, at the scene of a car-ramming attack in Tel Aviv, April 7, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara on Monday said the government must make a new decision on the fate of senior police official Amichai Eshed, concluding that the recent decision to remove him as Tel Aviv district commander raised significant legal difficulties.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir announced last month that at Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai’s recommendation, he was transferring Eshed to a new position, after slamming his handling of mass protests against the government’s judicial overhaul push. The move was swiftly frozen by Baharav-Miara, who raised concerns it was politically motivated.

In a fresh statement released by the Justice Ministry, Baharav-Miara said the new decision must be made “after the officer gets an opportunity to voice his position, and after reviewing the relevant considerations in accordance with police procedures and relevant procedures.”

After hearing the opinions of her advisers, Ben Gvir, Shabtai, and other professionals, the attorney general concluded that the original decision “deviated from accepted work practices.”

She noted that the timing of Ben Gvir’s move, just after he had publicly expressed his disapproval of Eshed’s handling of anti-government protests, “raises concern of a causal link” between them.

“This conduct is likely to have a chilling effect and may harm police operations and independence, especially in the sensitive contexts of preserving freedom of speech and protection of human rights,” the attorney general said.

Composite photo: Then-Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir, left, during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 21, 2022; Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks at Tel Aviv University on September 28, 2022. (Flash90)

Both Shabtai and Ben Gvir have insisted Eshed’s removal had been planned in advance. But Ben Gvir also said his decision to make the move now was tied to the commander’s handling of the protests in Tel Aviv, where police have largely shown patience with demonstrators, even when they block roads and the major Ayalon Highway.

Shabtai approved Eshed’s demotion, apparently in light of longstanding tensions with the top officer, but later admitted that taking the step at the current time had been an error.

In his short tenure so far as police minister, Ben Gvir has repeatedly clashed with the attorney general and police, often criticizing the force for not taking a harsher stance against demonstrators.

Ben Gvir insists he supports the right to protest but not to block main roads and disrupt daily life in the country.

In February, Ben Gvir criticized officers after they did not use force to disperse anti-government protesters in Jerusalem. The month before, he urged police to crack down on demonstrators who block roads, use water cannons to disperse them, and arrest them more liberally.

Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators blocking the highway during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Eshed was on vacation during protests in Tel Aviv on March 1, when police came under criticism for using a heavier hand with protesters, leading to several injuries. His deputy oversaw those rallies, with police conduct then praised by Ben Gvir for its severe response toward unruliness.

Israel has been rocked by mass demonstrations since early January, when the government unveiled its far-reaching plans to neuter the judicial system. Protesters have warned the proposals will weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters claim it is a much-needed reform to rein in an overly activist court.

President Isaac Herzog is currently hosting talks between the coalition and the opposition’s Yesh Atid and National Unity parties in an effort to reach agreement on judicial reform, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paused the overhaul legislation earlier this month after his since reversed decision to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant triggered major protests and a general strike.

Most Popular
read more: