Ohana said to hint to top cop job contender he’s expected to strong-arm protests

Candidate reportedly tells associates police minister implied promotion was tied to his position on anti-Netanyahu demonstrations

Justice Minister Amir Ohana speaks at the Knesset on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: Then-Justice Minister Amir Ohana speaks at the Knesset on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A contender for the post of police commissioner has told associates that during an interview with Public Security Minister Amir Ohana for the job, it was implied that he could get the appointment if he adopted the minister’s desire for a strong-handed approach to ongoing demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a report Friday.

Channel 13 reported that the unnamed candidate told confidantes Ohana asked him about his position on the mass protests, and hinted that if he were of the same position as the minister, he would be promoted.

Ohana denied implying any such thing.

Ohana has been interviewing candidates for the top job in recent weeks, including top brass within the force and outside candidates. Police have been without a permanent commissioner since December 2018, when Roni Alsheich departed the force. The lack of an elected government over subsequent repeated election cycles prevented the approval of a permanent commissioner, and former deputy commissioner Motti Cohen has been serving as acting chief in the interim.

Ohana, of the Likud party, is seen as a top ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is his job to propose a candidate for the post of police commissioner. But according to the coalition deal between Netanyahu and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, senior posts such as police chief must be approved by both parties in order to go through.

Ohana has been under media and public scrutiny in recent days over multiple reports that he has pressured police to step up enforcement against demonstrators.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on July 31, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to leaked recordings aired Sunday by Kan news, Ohana told police he wanted to “challenge” a High Court of Justice ruling that allowed the continued protests in Jerusalem against Netanyahu, and was applying immense pressure on police to take a harsher stance.

Earlier in July Channel 13 aired a transcript of a clash between Cohen and Ohana, in which the minister accused police of being soft on protesters. Ohana said past demonstrations by minority groups have been handled with tougher measures and suggested police would take tougher action if demonstrators were ultra-Orthodox, Arab or Ethiopian, shocking and enraging the acting police chief.

Protests have been held repeatedly over recent weeks near the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. The protests have drawn thousands of Israelis angry at government corruption, the handling of the coronavirus crisis, and other ills. There have been occasional scenes of violence at recent protests, often from police officers attempting to disperse the demonstrators, videos from the scene have shown.

Netanyahu and some of his supporters have spoken out against the protesters as “anarchists.”

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on July 30, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ohana has previously been reported to be pushing for the Jerusalem demonstrations to either be banned or relocated away from their usual site outside the official residence.

On Friday, Ohana told Channel 12 during an interview that his main desire was for the entire public, on all sides, to “lower the flames” and avoid disorder and violence.

Thursday and Friday again saw protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, with more major demonstrations set for Saturday night.

On Thursday police detained some 16 suspected far-right activists after a rally by an extremist Jerusalem gang saw journalists and others attacked, though police managed to prevent the group from approaching and potentially assaulting anti-government protesters. All were later released.

Recent days have seen an alarming uptick of attacks on anti-Netanyahu protesters by suspected far-right assailants, including a bloody assault in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

Ahead of Saturday’s mass rallies in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, police were preparing for more potential violence.

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