High Court orders gov’t to appoint permanent police chief, but gives no deadline

Amid coalition disagreements over filling post, justices issue injunction instructing selection of top cop after almost 2 years

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Acting Israel Police chief Motti Cohen speaks at the annual Justice Conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv, on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Acting Israel Police chief Motti Cohen speaks at the annual Justice Conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv, on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israel’s top court issued an injunction on Thursday ordering the government to appoint a new permanent police commissioner, a position that has been filled by a temporary appointment for two years amid ongoing political chaos.

“It has been exactly two years since the term of former commissioner Roni Alsheich ended,” the order from the High Court of Justice read.

“In view of the obligation of the government and the authorized bodies to act to fill the position of commissioner in accordance with the rules of administrative law, and given the attorney general’s position on it, this order hereby instructs the respondents to act to bring forward a candidate for commissioner.”

The judges did not give a timeframe for the appointment, but said the injunction must be carried out “at a suitable speed.”

Responding to a petition asking the court to force the government’s hand, Mandeblit said last week that he supported issuing a court order that would oblige Public Security Minister Amir Ohana to submit a candidate to the senior appointments committee “as soon as possible.”

Mandeblit said in a letter to the court that “no reason has been presented that could legally justify refraining from advancing the appointment of a permanent commissioner.”

Outgoing Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit during a farewell ceremony in Alsheich’s honor, in Beit Shemesh on November 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israel Police has been without a permanent commissioner since December 2018, when Alsheich’s term ended. Around the same time, new elections were called, leading to an extended period of instability that saw three elections over the course of a year. As the government during this time was a caretaker-transitional one, it could not appoint a police chief.

Israel has had a permanent coalition since May, but still no appointment has been forthcoming.

Alsheich was a key figure in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal probes and was reviled by the prime minister and Likud as one of the figures the premier has claimed without evidence were involved in an attempted coup against him. Motti Cohen has been acting police chief since Alsheich’s departure and has had his tenure extended several times.

Mandelblit has previously said that Netanyahu can not be involved in the appointment of top law enforcement officials due to a conflict of interest, as he is facing criminal charges.

Netanyahu’s lawyers have pushed back against the attorney general’s instructions, and the High Court earlier this month instructed Netanyahu to explain within 30 days why he claims he is not obligated by Mandelblit’s conflict of interest arrangement.

In their coalition agreement signed earlier this year, the Likud and Blue and White parties agreed to put off any senior nominations over which they were likely to clash. Netanyahu is believed to seek an appointment that will be more convenient to him as he faces ongoing legal troubles, while Blue and White is expected to seek an appointee who will be seen as independent, and not one attempting to curry favor with the premier.

The position of state attorney has been similarly empty since Shai Nitzan’s term ended in December 2019, with Likud blocking Blue and White from moving forward with an appointment. Mandelblit is currently acting state attorney.

At the start of October, Defense Minister and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said it was time to end the “chaos” in the government and fill senior law enforcement posts that have long been held by temporary appointees.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz issue a statement at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, July 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Tal Shahar, Yediot Ahronoth, Pool)

Responding to Mandelblit’s letter to the High Court last week, Gantz called for “the appointment of a commissioner, a state attorney and to complete all appointments as soon as possible.”

“It is impossible to keep a state on hold,” he wrote on Twitter, in an apparent reference to Netanyahu.

Thursday’s court order came a day after a proposal to dissolve the Knesset was passed in a preliminary vote, heralding the likely end of the power-sharing coalition Gantz established with Netanyahu some six months ago. The Knesset’s preliminary approval of the bill set the stage for new elections, though it must still pass more committee and plenary votes.

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