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Appointment of new Israel Police chief could be delayed until after election

Interim commissioner Motti Cohen may serve deep into next year, as selection to senior posts during election period is legally problematic

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, on July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, on July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

With Monday’s announcement by the coalition that it is setting early elections for next April, the selection of a permanent commissioner for the Israel Police could be put on hold until after the national vote.

The police has been led by interim chief Motti Cohen since December 2, when Roni Alsheich ended his term, after Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s candidate for the post, Moshe Edri, withdrew his candidacy amid a public scandal over his conduct.

Cohen was only given the post for a 45-day period as the government sought to bring forward a new candidate. But the Knesset’s expected dissolution this week could throw a wrench in those plans, as nominations for senior posts are legally questionable during an election period.

Cohen could then see his mandate extended until after the April 9 vote and the formation of a new government.

Israel Police Dep. Commissioner Motti Cohen. (Israel Police/Wikipedia/CC BY)

Erdan faces a similar problem in the selection of a new head for the Israel Prison Service.

The High Court of Justice has ruled in the past against appointments during an election campaign period, though it has left the door open for “exceptional cases.”

Earlier this month Edri announced that he would withdraw his candidacy after he was rejected by a vetting committee, and following new questions regarding his conduct throughout the nomination process.

The Goldberg Committee, which vets candidates for top government posts, especially in the security services, said last month that it could not recommend Edri as the next commissioner, citing a meeting he had held during the nomination process with the lawyer of a Tax Authority whistleblower, who has accused Edri of harassing him. The four-member panel voted 2-2 on Edri’s appointment, forcing a tie-breaking decision by the committee’s chairman, retired Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg.

On Sunday Jerusalem Police Chief Yoram Halevi, previously seen as a leading candidate, preemptively took himself out of the running to become commissioner. Halevi asked Erdan not to consider him for the position, reportedly after he was made to understand that he would not be nominated.

Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevi speaks to the press at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on July 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Haaretz quoted associates close to Halevi pointing an accusatory finger at Alsheich, who they say orchestrated a character assassination of Halevi to make sure he would not get the job. According to reports, Alsheich raised questions over Halevi’s connection to the Netanyahus and tried to torpedo his nomination.

With Halevi’s name dropped from the list, Interim Chief Cohen is said to be a top candidate for the job, along with Tel Aviv Police Chief Dep. Commissioner David Bitan, Judea and Samaria District Dep. Commissioner Moshe Barkat, and Northern District Dep. Commissioner Alon Asor. In addition, Erdan is said to be considering high ranking security officials outside of the police.

Two of the candidates received the Goldberg Committee’s approval two weeks ago — Halevy and Bitan — but Erdan was said to prefer neither man for the job. Sources close to the minister have not given a reason for his reluctance.

If Cohen is himself eventually appointed as the permanent police commissioner, he will follow in the footsteps of his brother, David Cohen, who was also given an interim appointment as Israel’s top cop in 2007 while the search for a replacement was underway, then won that race and served as the nation’s 16th police chief from 2007 to 2011.

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