A day after the preliminary Knesset passage of a bill subjugating the police force to a government ministry set to be helmed by a far-right politician, the immediate predecessor of Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said that he would have resigned in protest had he been in Shabtai’s shoes.
Roni Alsheich, who was police chief from 2015 to 2018, launched a scathing attack on expected incoming national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir, telling the Yedioth Ahronoth daily in an interview published Wednesday that the Otzma Yehudit party leader’s policies constituted “a huge danger to personal security in the State of Israel.”
The bill expanding the authority of the newly created post of national security minister over the police force advanced Tuesday night in a preliminary reading, 61-53. It still needs to be okayed by a Knesset committee and pass three more plenum votes to become law. It is part of a legislative blitz the presumed incoming coalition is trying to push through before a December 21 deadline for Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu to declare he has formed a government.
Critics, including outgoing Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, have said that broadening the police minister’s powers would threaten to turn Israel into a “police state.”
They have also criticized giving the post to Ben Gvir, a long-time far-right activist with a history of criminal convictions, extremism and racism, who has gained increasing popularity with his promise to restore order and curb a wave of crime in the Arab community.
“He believes he will succeed, but I want to let him know that he doesn’t understand how this is done,” Alsheich said of Ben Gvir. “He thinks this is how safety is restored, but he has no clue.”
“Had this been implemented [during my term] I would have resigned,” Alsheich said. “I wouldn’t have agreed to be a commissioner for a political figure. I know the bill’s wording, and the danger is very simple. I can guarantee that the outcome will be the opposite [of the intention].
“I fear for the fate of the State of Israel,” he said. “When the law enforcement apparatus is subordinate to external political intervention, my trust — and that of many other citizens — will be much lower, and when that trust plummets we will be living in anarchy.
“The result will be more violence of hitherto-unseen proportions, and then independent, unauthorized militias will be formed, and when they start to shoot suspected criminals, we’ll see what happens with the police. This is where we are headed.”
Alsheich argued that rampant violent crime in the Bedouin community cannot be fought without the cooperation of the Bedouin population: “If you declare that you’ll show them who’s boss” — as Ben Gvir has repeatedly done — “the meaning is that you aren’t coming to serve the population of the Negev but rather that you’re marking it as an element that must be fought. There is no other interpretation.”
Ben Gvir, in response, lambasted Alsheich’s conduct as commissioner.
“It is a shame the amendment wasn’t passed during the former commissioner’s term. He would have resigned and we would have been spared the immense damage he caused to the police force,” Ben Gvir said.
“To this day, the damage due to the abandonment of the public’s safety is evident and he is trying to cover up his failure via attacks in the media, instead of beating his breast,” he added, alleging that Alsheich “spied on citizens,” “trumped up” reasons to probe Netanyahu, repeatedly leaked information from those probes, and harmed human rights.
Alsheich, who before becoming police commissioner had a decades-long career in the Shin Bet domestic security agency, repeatedly clashed with Netanyahu, who appointed him. The police investigations that he led resulted in Netanyahu’s current trial on multiple corruption charges including bribery.