As battle over police chief brews, ministers call to disband vetting panel

As battle over police chief brews, ministers call to disband vetting panel

Top cabinet officials say Moshe Edri should be confirmed despite his rejection by committee, as AG weighs his legal position; Erdan names Motti Cohen as interim commissioner

Gilad Erdan (left) and Moshe Edri (2nd from left), at a farewell ceremony for outgoing chief of police Roni Alsheich in Beit Shemesh, on November 29, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Gilad Erdan (left) and Moshe Edri (2nd from left), at a farewell ceremony for outgoing chief of police Roni Alsheich in Beit Shemesh, on November 29, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Leaders of the Jewish Home party and Likud ministers on Friday said they would vote to confirm Maj. Gen. Moshe Edri as police chief, despite a government vetting panel deeming him ethically unfit for the post, as Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he would push ahead with the appointment.

Both Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, the education minister, and his political partner Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called for the Senior Appointments Advisory Committee to be disbanded, saying it was restricting the sovereignty of the cabinet.

“If minister Erdan decides to bring the nomination of… Edri before the cabinet, we will vote in favor,” Bennett said.

Bennett said Edri “has served the State of Israel his entire life, and suddenly he’s forced to live up to a standard of a pure, faultless angel. The problem is that those who act sometimes err, and this attitude by the [committee] and excessive legal wrangling is leading Israel to mediocrity, ineffectiveness and a fear to act.”

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz of Likud said he would fully support any candidate Erdan brings before the cabinet. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) also called to shut down the committee, saying a rethink of the nomination process was needed. Culture Minister Miri Regev said she too backed Erdan’s position and questioned the need for the appointments committee.

With current police chief Roni Alsheich slated to retire on Monday, Erdan on Friday said he would make Southern District chief Motti Cohen interim commissioner until a permanent appointment is finalized.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (left) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked deliver a statement to reporters on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The panel’s decision had been split 2-2, forcing a tie-breaking vote by its head. In their majority ruling, panel chief and retired Judge Eliezer Goldberg and law professor Talia Einhorn cited a recent meeting Edri had held with an attorney of a plaintiff against him, which he did not disclose to the committee. They also noted a State Comptroller report that questioned his conduct while serving as head of the Traffic Department.

Shaked said the committee, formed in 1999, was “superfluous” and said its ruling was “unreasonable.”

Edri, she said, had been subjected to an ordeal through the nomination process. “If, after all the examinations, all that was found was a meeting with attorney [Pinhas] Fischler and a State Comptroller report that did not prevent his appointment to district commander and ministry director general, then there is no obstacle to his appointment.”

Moshe Edri, director general of the Public Security Ministry, attends a farewell ceremony for outgoing chief of Police Roni Alsheich in Beit Shemesh, on November 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit was holding consultations as he considered his position on the matter.

Erdan has said he will seek to change the committee’s position and, if he fails, will bring the appointment to a cabinet vote anyway. It was not clear whether this would be legally feasible, and his approval by the cabinet over the committee’s objections would likely lead to legal petitions and a High Court battle.

Mandelblit’s position on the matter could prove critical to the cabinet’s eventual decision.

The Senior Appointments Advisory Committee, popularly known as the Goldberg Commission, announced just after midnight Friday it could not recommend Edri for the Police Commissioner post, saying he “would damage public trust in the police.”

Shaked said it was not the panel’s right to decide who gets to be police chief. “Nobody is perfect, but the government needs to appoint the best candidate,” she said.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a conference at the National Library in Jerusalem on June 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Edri, the current director general of the Public Security Ministry and a former police commander of the districts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, had won wide backing in the government, beating out Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevi, who was considered the front-runner for the position, and current Tel Aviv police chief David Bitan.

But questions have been raised over his past conduct and tenure as Jerusalem’s top cop.

Last week, Edri underwent a lie-detector test that the appointments committee had ordered he take as part of its vetting process, due to the sensitive nature of the commissioner position; the fact that there were complaints against him regarding unspecified inappropriate behavior; and the fact that other contenders for the job had already undergone the test.

According to the Goldberg Commission announcement, the decision to put the kibosh on the nomination stemmed from a meeting Edri had during the vetting process with Pinhas Fischler, the lawyer of Israel Tax Authority whistle-blower Rafi Rotem, who has accused police under Edri of harassing him.

Though Edri and Fischler both said the meeting was not about Rotem, Edri apparently failed to disclose it, and the commission wrote that the very fact they met at such a sensitive time was “a failure of behavior and of discretion that leads to inappropriate conduct.

“Public trust in the police to a large degree comes from who the commissioner is,” the commission wrote. “The cloud hanging over the meeting would follow the candidate all his years in the job, if he were picked, and thus harm public trust in the police.”

The committee also noted a State Comptroller report that found fault in Edri’s conduct while serving as the head of the Traffic Department of the police. That report, which censured a general “culture of lies” within police, condemned Edri for letting senior officers off the hook on traffic offenses on multiple occasions.

The four-member panel voted 2-2 on Edri, with two committee members saying they did not believe the concerns justified striking down the nomination. However, Goldberg used his powers as head of the commission to break the tie and torpedo the nomination.

Chief of Police Roni Alsheich speaks at the launching of the new National Headquarters for the Protection of Children Online, at the Public Security Ministry in Jerusalem on November 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The committee had held several discussions on Edri’s appointment and interviewed Erdan, Alsheich, and Edri himself.

Various reports have claimed that Alsheich has sought to thwart Edri’s nomination over the past few months. Speaking to reporters Thursday night, he denied having any role in the panel’s delay in deciding on the nomination.

After it called on the public to submit information that could help in the vetting of Edri’s candidacy, the committee said it had received many responses, mostly supportive. However, some members of the public complained about “inappropriate behavior,” it said, without elaborating.

A report last week by the Kan public broadcaster said one of the complaints involved alleged behavior that has in the past caused other police officers to be dismissed. Other complaints said Edri was in a conflict of interests, due to ties to business people that he didn’t report.

LGBT rights groups had slammed Edri’s nomination in light of a deadly stabbing at the Jerusalem Pride parade that took place when the nominee was the city’s top officer. Edri received a reprimand over the 2015 attack, in which ultra-Orthodox extremist Yishai Schlissel stabbed to death 16-year-old Shira Banki and wounded five others.

Participants in Jerusalem”s annual Gay Pride Parade hold up a picture of the murdered Shira Banki on August 3, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite intelligence warnings that Schlissel and others were planning acts of violence against the marchers, the Jerusalem police under Edri’s command did not take any measures to monitor the stabber, who had been previously imprisoned for a similar but not-fatal attack at the 2005 Gay Pride parade.

Edri’s nomination had drawn widespread praise from politicians in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was a “fitting appointment” and called the nominee a “good and experienced officer.”

Alsheich is to end his term after four years in office. Erdan, who has clashed with the outgoing commissioner, declined to extend his tenure by an additional year.

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