President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday expressed support for former Supreme Court judge Eliezer Goldberg, who has been at the center of controversy after a vetting committee he heads rejected the government-approved candidate to be the next police chief.
The Senior Appointments Advisory Committee, also known as the Goldberg Committee, announced on Friday that it could not recommend Maj. Gen. Moshe “Chico” Edri as the next commissioner, citing a meeting he held during the nomination process with the lawyer of a Tax Authority whistleblower who has accused Edri of harassing him.
Following that decision, Education Minister Naftali Bennett as well as law enforcement sources this week accused Goldberg of racism.
“I feel that in the heat of debate, provocative and offensive things have been said that should not be part of issues such as this, things that amount to false accusations against Justice Goldberg,” Rivlin charged during a ceremony swearing in new judges.
“One cannot appoint a committee by government decision and expect it to be a rubber stamp,” Rivlin said. “Justice Goldberg and the other members of the committee have the duty — not the right — to express their views clearly.”
The president added that he was “confident that any decision made by the committee, headed by Goldberg, stems from completely professional and practical considerations, with the state’s interests alone driving them.”
A senior law enforcement official was quoted Saturday night by Channel 10 news as saying Goldberg had been seeking a pretext from the start to reject Edri, who is of Middle Eastern descent.
“Goldberg thought from the first moment that he’s stupid and illiterate,” the source said. “When Edri began talking he was disorganized and didn’t impress him. He thought he wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the drawer, and that’s an understatement. He may be right, but to portray him as corrupt?”
Former senior police official Uri Barlev, an associate of Edri’s, told Channel 10 that the committee targeted Edri “based on racism or because [Goldberg] didn’t like him.”
Bennett, who leads the Jewish Home coalition party, said Sunday morning that if the allegations against Goldberg were correct, “there is no term for this other than ethnic racism.”
Associates of Goldberg responded to the allegations at the time, saying it was “incredible how low people can stoop.”
“He doesn’t need to counter whether he’s racist or not,” they told Hadashot TV news. “The questions on that matter are unnecessary, the answers are unnecessary, and most of all — the remarks attributed to the judge are unnecessary.”
On Sunday, the government approved the appointment of Maj. Gen. Motti Cohen, the previous Southern District chief, as temporary police chief for 45 days. He entered that position on Monday, when Roni Alsheich retired.
Goldberg has also been criticized for alleging that Edri had failed a lie-detector test taken during the vetting process — contradicting other committee members — and quickly walking back the claim, saying his words had been “misunderstood.”
The four-member panel voted 2-2 on Edri, forcing a tie-breaking vote by committee chairman Goldberg.
Erdan has vowed to push ahead with the appointment despite the disqualification. It remained unclear whether it would be legally viable for Erdan to sidestep the government-appointed vetting committee. A cabinet approval of Edri despite the committee’s objections would likely lead to legal petitions and a High Court battle.
Edri’s nomination had drawn widespread praise from politicians in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Edri was a “fitting appointment” and called him a “good and experienced officer.” Edri beat out Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevi, who was considered the front-runner for the position, and current Tel Aviv police chief David Bitan.
However, despite widespread government support for Edri, questions have surfaced over his past conduct and tenure as Jerusalem’s police chief.
Edri’s nomination also faced opposition from LGBT rights groups in Israel, which criticized his handling of the 2015 Pride Parade in Jerusalem in which ultra-Orthodox extremist Yishai Schlissel stabbed to death 16-year-old Shira Banki and wounded five others.
Current police chief Roni Alsheich retired on Monday after four years in office, after Erdan, who has often clashed with the outgoing commissioner, declined to extend his tenure by the customary additional year.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.