Amid political gridlock, minister extends acting police chief tenure by 6 months

Motti Cohen, acting commissioner since December 2018, will stay on, along with acting prison chief, as no end foreseen to political infighting hampering police appointments

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)

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana notified interim Police Commissioner Motti Cohen on Friday that he plans to extend his tenure as top cop for an additional six months, with political infighting expected to prevent the appointment of a permanent law enforcement chief for the foreseeable future.

Ohana passed along the same message to the acting head of the Israel Prisons Service Asher Vaknin.

Their temporary terms had been set to expire on September 30, but with the six-month extension, Cohen and Vaknin will remain in their posts until March 30 — unless a permanent replacement is named beforehand, Ohana told them.

The police force has been led by Cohen since December 2018, when then-public security minister Gilad Erdan declined to extend Roni Alsheich’s four-year tenure by the customary additional year. Alsheich’s term was marked by public feuds with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior politicians.

As Israel’s top cop, Alsheich oversaw the police investigations into Netanyahu, which concluded with an indictment against the premier on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. His trial has since begun. The prime minister, who orchestrated Alsheich’s appointment to the post, had made little secret of his dislike for the former police chief, accusing him of leaking information from the investigations to the press and of conducting a “witch hunt.”

Then-public security minister Gilad Erdan and then-police chief Roni Alsheich attend a ceremony at police headquarters in Jerusalem on September 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After ending Alsheich’s term, Erdan sought to replace him with Moshe Edri, but the latter withdrew his candidacy amid a public scandal over his conduct. Cohen has been at the helm ever since.

Last month, Cohen reportedly told law enforcement brass that he is likely to remain acting chief for the foreseeable future.

“Due to the political situation… it appears that no permanent commissioner will be appointed to the police in the near future,” he told district commanders, according to the Walla and Maariv news sites. “I will continue to lead police as acting chief until a different decision is made.”

The Knesset last month night gave final approval to a bill delaying the deadline for the state budget, breaking through a bitter political logjam ostensibly about the state budget, but also over the issue of senior law-enforcement appointments — such as police chief and state prosecutors — and the balance of power in the dysfunctional unity coalition.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana holds a press conference in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020. (FLASH90)

Despite earlier Likud party demands, the final bill approved by the Knesset plenum Monday night did not include a clause forming a panel on senior appointments. Netanyahu has been accused of seeking to engineer the appointment of top legal officials who would be willing to be more lenient in the criminal graft trial against him. The prime minister denies any such plan.

Responding to a High Court petition seeking to bar him from dealing with judicial appointments due to the corruption charges he is facing in court, Netanyahu announced last month that he will take no role in appointing senior Justice Ministry officials and an Israel Police commissioner.

Also last month though, Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu wants to appoint a former senior police official who has represented the premier’s family in a criminal investigation to be the country’s next police commissioner.

The network said Netanyahu’s Likud party has floated Yaakov Borovsky’s name in talks with coalition partners the Blue and White party and has also asked to dismantle a vetting committee for the nomination of senior civil servants.

Netanyahu’s office denied the report.

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