Gantz calls on Netanyahu to not let Ben Gvir choose next police chief

National Unity head urges PM’s involvement in pick despite conflict of interest arrangement related to graft trial, says far-right minister should be replaced by ‘a serious person’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, greets National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset on May 23, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, greets National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset on May 23, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz on Tuesday urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a prominent role in appointing the next Israel Police chief — and sideline the decision of far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

“I call on the prime minister to remember his primary responsibility, to use his authority to interview himself the candidates for police chief and to be involved in this process,” Gantz said during a tour up north.

“We cannot leave this critical decision to the State of Israel and to its citizens in the hands of Ben Gvir,” he added. “Someone who secretly records the police chief, leaks from sensitive meetings, fails daily in managing personal security, who is an anti-statesmanlike figure, cannot appoint the next police chief.”

Gantz said that Netanyahu must himself consult with the relevant professionals and appoint the next commissioner of the Israel Police, “and not abandon this strategic position.”

The opposition faction leader also reiterated his call to replace Ben Gvir, who has previously been convicted of supporting a terror group and for incitement to racism and served as a defense lawyer for Jewish extremists before entering the Knesset, with “a serious person with relevant skills.”

“I call on all government ministers to show responsibility and vigilance, and not raise their hands in favor of appointing a police commissioner who will serve the power and not the country,” Gantz said.

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz speaks while touring northern Israel, October 3, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

There was no immediate reaction from Ben Gvir or Netanyahu to the National Unity leader’s comments.

Despite Gantz’s entreaty to Netanyahu, the premier is barred by a conflict of interest agreement from involving himself in decisions and appointments that could impact his ongoing trial on corruption charges, such as selecting senior law enforcement and judicial officials.

Since taking office late last year, Ben Gvir has sought to exert more influence over the police, leading to a sour relationship with Commissioner Kobi Shabtai. The National Security Ministry oversees the police force and Border Police.

Shabtai said in June that he will end his term in January and won’t seek an additional year in office.

In August, Ben Gvir and Shabtai sparred publicly over who the force must ultimately obey — the law or elected officials — with the police chief arguing the former and the far-right minister the latter.

Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai (4th from right), and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (3rd from right) at the Israel Police Independence Day ceremony at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem, April 20, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

The clash came ahead of two High Court hearings last month on petitions demanding that two laws passed by the government be struck down, and amid growing calls within the hard-right coalition for the political leadership to disobey a potential ruling of this sort.

Such a scenario would plunge Israel into a deep constitutional crisis, and could put the police in the position of having to choose whether to obey the government or the court.

A leading candidate to be the next commissioner, Coastal Region Police Commander Yoram Sofer, initially declined to say when asked how he would respond in such a scenario before later clarifying he would side with the High Court of Justice over the government in the case of a constitutional crisis.

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