Fresh from the failure of his nominee for Israel Police chief to make it past a top vetting panel, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has gone back to the drawing board and begun interviewing a new cadre of senior officers from the police and other agencies in search of a fresh crop of candidates.
The interviews began on Sunday, according to Hadashot TV news.
Erdan is said to be eager to conclude the process as quickly as possible, as the Israel Police is currently led by Dep. Commissioner Motti Cohen on a 45-day temporary appointment that will expire either on January 16 or when a new police commissioner is chosen.
Erdan’s previous candidate for police chief, Dep. Commissioner Moshe Edri, announced on Wednesday that he would withdraw his candidacy after he was rejected by the vetting committee and following new questions regarding his conduct throughout the nomination process.
It was the second time Erdan’s top choice for police chief has fallen through. In 2015, Erdan’s candidate Gal Hirsch, a former army general, was dropped after some of his company’s dealings abroad were brought into question. Erdan instead nominated Roni Alsheich, who departed last week at the end of a three-year term marked by persistent tensions with the minister, who chose not to grant him a customary fourth-year extension.
The Goldberg Committee, which vets candidates for top government posts, especially in the security services, said two weeks ago that it could not recommend Edri as the next commissioner, citing a meeting he had held during the nomination process with the lawyer of a Tax Authority whistleblower who has accused Edri of harassing him. The four-member panel voted 2-2 on Edri’s appointment, forcing a tie-breaking decision by the committee’s chairman, retired Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg.
The decision, and the imminence of Alsheich’s retirement last Monday, led ministers to approve last Sunday the appointment of Motti Cohen as interim police chief.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri did not participate in that vote due to a conflict of interest stemming from ongoing police investigations against them.
Cohen, who heads the police’s Southern District, is reportedly the frontrunner in the race to replace Alsheich.
The other candidates include Jerusalem Police chief Dep. Commissioner Yoram Halevy, Tel Aviv Police chief Dep. Commissioner David Bitan, and at least three candidates from the army’s senior ranks: retired armored corps officer and Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Sammy Turgeman, former Air Force chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Amir Eshel, and former Central Command chief and now head of the army’s Iran efforts Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon.
Retired Dep. Commissioner Bentzi Sau, a former Tel Aviv Police chief and deputy police commissioner, was rumored to be on the list as well.
Two of the candidates received the Goldberg Committee’s approval two weeks ago — Halevy and Bitan — but Erdan was said to prefer neither man for the job. Sources close to the minister have not given a reason for his reluctance.
According to those sources, no women are currently being considered for the post, despite a call last week from Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, a member of Erdan’s Likud party, to change tack and appoint a woman.
In a letter Thursday to Erdan and Netanyahu, Gamliel asked them to “seriously consider the option of making history and doing justice by appointing a female commissioner for the first time in the history of the Israel Police.”
In 2015, Netanyahu, in a tweet, voiced support for appointing a woman as head of the police. “If it depends on me, I would like to advance this idea,” he wrote.
Thursday’s letter was sent by Gamliel and Eva Madjiboj, the general director of the government’s Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women in Israel, and named seven senior female security officials with the qualifications to be considered for the post.
The seven were: former head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate Maj. Gen. (res.) Orna Barbivai; Strategic Affairs Ministry director general Brig. Gen. (res.) Sima Vaknin; Israel Prisons Service (IPS) head Chief Commissioner Ofra Klinger; former IPS head Chief Commissioner (ret.) Orit Adato; the Israel Police’s current Human Resources Department head Dep. Commissioner Gila Gaziel; the navy’s Brig. Gen. Michal Teshuva and the IDF Manpower Directorate’s Brig. Gen. Merav Kirshner.
Meanwhile, the feminist NGO Israel Women’s Network requested that Erdan appoint a police chief who has made the eradication of violence against women a top priority. Last week saw a mass protest and women’s strike on Tuesday in protest of government inaction after 24 women being were killed by male family members and acquaintances in 2018.
Erdan was said to be frustrated at the failure of Edri’s candidacy, telling confidants last week that “there wasn’t anything I could have done or should have done differently. The attorney general approved Edri,” according to a report by Hadashot.
Erdan also slammed the Goldberg Committee for refusing his suggestion to approve a list of multiple candidates submitted to them, so he could choose from pre-approved candidates and not have to endure yet again the public spectacle of having a nominee rejected on ethics grounds. “The committee’s approval process and its refusal to check several candidates before my decision forces me now to find a candidate whose primary qualification is that he will ‘pass’ the committee no matter what, and not necessarily to find the best candidate to lead the police.”
If Cohen is appointed police commissioner at the end of the search, he will follow in the footsteps of his brother, David Cohen, who was also given an interim appointment as Israel’s top cop in 2007 while the search for a replacement was underway, then won that race and served as the nation’s 16th police chief from 2007 to 2011.