Ex-top cops: Low point in police history; Shabtai must go

AG freezes Tel Aviv police chief’s ouster, citing ‘severe concern’ decision illegal

Baharav-Miara questions the motives and timing of the announcement, which has been linked to Ben Gvir’s criticism of Amichai Eshed’s response to anti-government protesters

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara attends a conference of the Israeli chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara attends a conference of the Israeli chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara on Friday morning instructed that the removal of Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed from his position be frozen immediately, questioning the legality of a decision that was widely seen as politically motivated.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir announced on Thursday that Eshed would be transferred to head the police’s Training Department based on a recommendation by Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai. The move was considered a stinging dismissal of Eshed, who was believed to harbor ambitions to lead the police force, with Hebrew media indicating Ben Gvir had been grumbling about his ostensibly mild response to anti-government protests.

In a statement responding to Ben Gvir’s announcement, Baharav-Miara’s office said that an initial examination of Eshed’s transfer “raised severe concern as to the legality and soundness of the process, including the motives informing the decision, the timing of the announcement and its background.

“Thus,” the statement continued, “the attorney general has instructed the relevant bodies to freeze all decisions and actions in Deputy Commissioner Eshed’s case, pending the orderly completion of the necessary legal review. Let it be clear that until the review is completed… Eshed will remain in his position.”

Shabtai, in response, confirmed that Eshed’s transfer would be frozen, though he insisted the decision was part of a “round of appointments that the Israel Police has long been preparing for” and noted that the timing was at the sole discretion of the police minister.

Ben Gvir himself dismissed Baharav-Miara’s statement, saying: “If anyone hasn’t gotten the message so far, this is a leftist attorney general, representing the previous regime, who has a patently political agenda.” He also asserted that the decision to freeze Eshed’s removal was proof of the need for the Netanyahu government’s proposal to neuter the judiciary, which includes a bid to curtail the attorney general’s power to affect policy.

Left: Police’s Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed speaks to the media at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff Street in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023 (Erik Marmor/Flash90); Right: National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the entrance to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Baharav-Miara’s statement came hours after a group of former Israel Police commissioners called on Shabtai to resign over the role he played in removing Eshed from his position.

In a letter, the former top cops wrote that they were “shocked” by Shabtai’s actions, which they called a “low point in the history of the Israel Police,” charging that he had “lost the moral and ethical right to continue” to lead.

Among the signatories were former commissioners Roni Alsheich, Moshe Karadi, Shlomo Aharonishki, Assaf Hefetz and Rafi Peled.

“You cooperated with a convicted criminal in order to turn the police into a private militia, and in order to satisfy the political whims of an appointed minister,” they wrote, accusing Shabtai of involvement in “the purge of a commander with a backbone.”

Before entering office, Ben Gvir was arrested dozens of times and was once convicted of incitement and supporting a Jewish terrorist group.

Responding to the former commissioners’ letter, Ben Gvir labeled the group “failed officers who came together after they destroyed the police, destroyed national security, and some of them were also involved in corruption.

“It is better if they would sit quietly and not disturb the commissioner’s and the police’s work,” he said.

Israel’s Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai arrives at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff Avenue in the center of Tel Aviv on March 9, 2023. (Jack Guez / AFP)

Ben Gvir claimed on Thursday that Eshed’s transfer was “pre-planned” and “not a dismissal.” Nevertheless, he came under fire from opposition heads, who charged that the move was political.

Yesh Atid, the party of opposition leader Yair Lapid, branded Ben Gvir a “weak TikTok clown,” and accused him of politicizing the police force, while National Unity chair Benny Gantz accused him of carrying out a “political purge.”

Earlier this week, 25 former police chiefs and commanders reportedly wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to warn him that Ben Gvir’s security policies will lead to a third intifada, or Palestinian uprising.

That call was echoed on Friday by Gantz, who placed responsibility for “the political circus in internal security” on Netanyahu, who, he said “should fire Ben Gvir for being incompetent and for causing serious damage.”

Amid Thursday’s protests, which saw the Ayalon Highway blocked for some two hours and roads around Ben Gurion Airport jammed by demonstrators, Ben Gvir was reported to have raged at the police’s conduct.

The Kan public broadcaster and other outlets reported that he complained cops “didn’t follow my instructions throughout the day, both at the airport and on the Ayalon… They do whatever they want — it won’t continue.”

A water cannon positioned near protesters blocking the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2023. (Carrie Keller Lynn/Times of Israel)

Later in the day, he announced several appointments, among them Eshed’s as head of the Training Department.

Notably, Eshed was on vacation during mass 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.

Shortly after Ben Gvir’s decision was announced, three people were wounded in a terror attack on central Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street, and Eshed rushed to the scene to oversee the security response.

Eshed refused to comment on his transfer, insisting he was focused solely on doing everything he could to protect citizens.

Ben Gvir has frequently complained that police have not taken a tough enough hand against protesters, whom he brands “anarchists.”

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