AG says Ben Gvir acting out of ‘ulterior motives’ in push to dismiss police chief

Baharav-Miara tells far-right police minister that move to summon Shabtai is unlawful and raises fears he is trying to intimidate the police force

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (left) speaks during an official Memorial Day ceremony at the Ashdod Military Cemetery, May 13, 2024. (Liron Moldovan/Flash90); Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara addresses the Israel Bar Association's annual conference in Eilat, May 27, 2024. (Courtesy Israel Bar Association)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (left) speaks during an official Memorial Day ceremony at the Ashdod Military Cemetery, May 13, 2024. (Liron Moldovan/Flash90); Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara addresses the Israel Bar Association's annual conference in Eilat, May 27, 2024. (Courtesy Israel Bar Association)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s summons of Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai for a hearing ahead of Shabtai’s expected dismissal was unlawful and must be canceled, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told the minister in a letter on Tuesday, adding that he had failed to provide adequate grounds for firing him.

Ben Gvir announced on Monday that he was considering early termination for Shabtai, who is set to leave the position in a couple of months, claiming the reason was Shabtai’s alleged general dysfunction.

However, Ben Gvir’s recommendation came only a day after Shabtai himself reported to Baharav-Miara that the minister was unlawfully interfering with the police.

Baharav-Miara said she believed the far-right minister was acting out of “ulterior motives.”

“The proximity of the timing raises serious concerns that under the guise of supposedly principled claims against the commissioner you are actually seeking to ‘punish’ him for seeking to prevent you from improperly interfering in the work of the police, all while you are acting, apparently, contrary to the express decision of the High Court of Justice,” the attorney general told Ben Gvir, adding that she was also concerned that Ben Gvir was trying to “send a message to the whole chain of command to scare them.”

Heavy clashes broke out between police and worshipers at Mount Meron on Saturday night after hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men tried to violate the wartime ban on gatherings at the site where they wished to hold their annual Lag B’Omer celebration.

In his report to Bahara-Miara on Sunday, Shabtai accused Ben Gvir of violating a High Court of Justice ruling in January that forbade him from giving police orders on how to deal with protests.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai at the scene of a fatal shooting attack in Re’em Junction, on February 16, 2024. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Baharav-Miara added in her letter that because of the strong implications that may arise from summoning Shabtai to such a hearing, Ben Gvir was required to provide sufficient evidential foundation for the move.

In his recommendation on Sunday, Ben Gvir accused Shabtai of being “out of touch,” only promoting officers who are close to him, and failing to hold in-depth meetings on rampant crime in the Arab community, among other charges.

However, according to Baharav-Miara, the letter did not “provide the necessary foundation which is a significant problem in itself and increases the concern that other considerations guided” Ben Gvir.

She also noted that Ben Gvir’s recommendation to terminate Shabtai came despite the fact that the police chief’s term, “which you extended only a few months ago, is set to end in less than two months and while the State of Israel is at war.”

In January, the attorney general told the High Court that the national security minister could set policy but not instruct police on specific enforcement after activist groups petitioned the court to prevent Ben Gvir from giving orders on how to police protests.

The court ruled that the far-right minister had violated a decision by the court last year that said he was not permitted to issue such orders.

Police officers escort a Haredi man outside of the Meron compound on May 25, 2024. (Screenshot/Israel Police)

Ben Gvir and Shabtai have had an up-and-down relationship. The minister threatened last year not to extend the police commissioner’s term by the customary year, triggering a spat with National Unity chair Benny Gantz that was ultimately negotiated by the Likud party.

Shabtai had been due to end his tenure in January and had previously said he would not seek an extension but changed his decision after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught on Israel in which terrorists murdered some 1,200 people and took 252 hostages, and the subsequent war in Gaza.

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