Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan insisted Thursday that he had not been influenced by the prime minister in his decision not to extend the term of police chief Roni Alsheich, announcing three candidates to replace him.
Erdan explained that he and Alsheich had had “disagreements on various weighty issues” but added that he did not regret his appointment. On the decision not to extend the police chief’s term, he said: “The extension of the appointment is not a given and never was and is itself the exceptional action.”
Erdan’s decision has faced immediate criticism, as Alsheich has led police through its investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three separate corruption cases.
He denied allegations that the decision not to extend Alsheich’s term for a customary fourth year had come from above as a direct result of the commissioner’s frayed relationship with the premier, and as a possible attempt to rein in police activity vis-a-vis the prime minister.
“I received clear instructions from the attorney general on who I could consult with in the process and I followed them,” he said at a press conference. “I did not update the prime minister or the ministers [on the process].”
Following the announcement, opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union called for an end to the “farcical practice” of limiting the term to three years and “allow the head of the police to be independent without constantly dangling the extension in front of him.” Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said the move was directly linked to the investigations of the prime minister and Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said there was “a heavy cloud” over the decision.
Netanyahu, under investigation in three cases, had made little secret of his dislike for Alsheich over the last year, accusing him of leaking information to the press and of conducting a “witch hunt.”
Alsheich is now slated to leave his post in December.
Erdan named the candidates to replace Alsheich as Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevi, Tel Aviv police chief David Bitan, and Moshe Edri, a former head of the Tel Aviv police and director general of the Public Security Ministry.
The three names will be submitted to a government committee that advises on the ethical suitability of appointees.
He said the main task the next police chief will face will be combating violence and crime in the Arab sector. Arab leaders have long accused Israeli leadership of not doing enough to stem rampant crime and murders in Arab towns throughout the country.
“Significant funds have been allocated in recent years but the results are not yet satisfactory and crime in the Arab public is still very high,” Erdan acknowledged.
Erdan had informed Alsheich of the decision in a meeting with the commissioner earlier Thursday where he thanked him for his “longstanding and highly acclaimed service for the security of the country and its citizens,” according to a statement released by the minister.
In a statement released by police, Alsheich in return thanked Erdan for the opportunity to serve as head of the force and wished success to his as-yet-unchosen successor.
Netanyahu is a suspect in three criminal graft investigations, all of which involve suspicions that he advanced the interests of businesspeople in government in exchange for expensive gifts and positive media coverage. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing.
Police have recommended indicting the prime minister in two of the cases, and are believed to be close to a similar recommendation in the third. All cases will be reviewed by state prosecutors and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who must make the ultimate decision on whether to indict Netanyahu in any or all of them.
Alsheich had said that he would not compromise on his values to hold onto the job. “If, to get an extension, a fourth year, I have to give up on my values, or the value of the rule of law, that’s not for me,” Hadashot news quoted him in April as telling confidants.
The decision not to extend Alsheich’s tenure comes a day after two members of the government committee that advises on the ethical appropriateness of appointees to the most senior positions in public service resigned Wednesday, in the wake of a High Court ruling questioning their suitability.
The court had ordered a freeze to all proceedings of the four-person committee headed by Eliezer Goldberg, a former Supreme Court justice and state comptroller, following an appeal by the Movement for Integrity watchdog group which insisted that both national security adviser Yaakov Nagel and Iris Shtark, a noted accountant, were too close to Netanyahu.
Last week Halevi, considered to be Netanyahu’s preferred pick for the job, lambasted media reports claiming that Alsheich has been trying to undermine his candidacy. While touring Jerusalem’s iconic Mahane Yehuda market with Alsheich, Halevi said the rumors were wrong, and “were hurting me and my family.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.