Cabinet extends term of interim police chief until after elections
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Cabinet extends term of interim police chief until after elections

Ministers avoid making new appointment before national vote to avoid legal challenges and claims of political bias

Israel Police Dep. Commissioner Motti Cohen at a police ceremony marking the Jewish New Year at Israel Police headquarters in Jerusalem on September 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israel Police Dep. Commissioner Motti Cohen at a police ceremony marking the Jewish New Year at Israel Police headquarters in Jerusalem on September 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The term of interim Police Commissioner Motti Cohen has been extended by four months with cabinet approval, until after the national elections in April.

Cohen will now serve in the post until May 17.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan appointed Cohen interim police chief in early December after his first choice for the post, Moshe Edri, withdrew his candidacy after a vetting panel disqualified him for the post.

Cohen was appointed as a 45-day stopgap measure as the government sought to bring forward a new candidate. But the Knesset’s dissolution on December 24 stymied those plans. Governments traditionally avoid appointing top officials in the civil service in the run-up to elections.

Erdan announced on January 4 he would ask the cabinet to extend Cohen’s term.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks at an event at the Ministry of Public Security in Jerusalem on November 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a statement at the time, Erdan said a permanent appointment during an election period would “suffer from uncertainty in both the legal and public arenas.” He said the public could perceive the appointment as politically motivated and that it wasn’t clear he had the legal authority to complete the appointment process by election day.

“Even though there are suitable candidates for the position, it’s the appropriate decision to make in light of the early elections,” he said in the statement.

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.”

Meanwhile, officials in Israel’s national police force have urged that a permanent appointment be made as soon as possible. An extended interim term, officials have told ministers, could hold up appointments to other top positions in the police and set back long-term planning and procurement efforts.

Moshe Edri attends a launching of the new National Headquarters for the Protection of Children Online in Jerusalem on November 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After the vetting panel disqualified Edri in late November, Erdan held another round of interviews with senior officers from the police and other agencies in search of a fresh crop of candidates for the commissioner position.

Cohen himself 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.

If Cohen is 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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