Social equality minister calls for next police chief to be a woman

Gila Gamliel sends letter to PM urging ‘historic’ step, citing need for ‘different leadership’ after wave of sexual harassment cases within force

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Then-Minister of Senior Citizens Gila Gamliel speaks during the weekly government conference at PM Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem on December 30, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Then-Minister of Senior Citizens Gila Gamliel speaks during the weekly government conference at PM Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem on December 30, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud) on Thursday sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan asking them to appoint the first female commissioner of the Israel Police.

In a letter, Gamliel asked them to “seriously consider the option of making history and justice and appointing a female commissioner for the first time in Israel Police’s history.”

The letter was sent by Gamliel and by Eva Madjiboj, the general director of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women in Israel, who has named seven senior female officials as potential candidates, the Ynet news site reported.

According to reports earlier Thursday, all the candidates currently being considered in the race to replace former top cop Roni Alsheich, who retired on Monday, are men.

In 2015, Netanyahu, in a tweet, voiced support for appointing a woman as head of the police force. “If it depends on me, I would like to advance this idea,” wrote the prime minister at the time.

The government has been scrambling to find a new permanent head for the force after its previous candidate, Maj. Gen. Moshe Edri, announced on Wednesday that he would withdraw his candidacy after being rejected by a vetting committee and following new questions regarding his conduct throughout the nomination process.

Deputy Commissioner Motti Cohen, who is currently serving as police chief in a 45-day temporary appointment, is reportedly the frontrunner in the race, beating out at least six other candidates.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, right, and then-Jerusalem police chief Moshe Edri, left, at a press conference at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem, on October 7, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Gamliel and Madjiboj wrote in their letter that “today more than ever, it is undoubtedly the right move to introduce leadership and managing skills of a different kind to what we have seen in recent years, definitely in light of the information revealed in past years on what’s happening within police regarding treatment of women.”

They were referring to a string of sexual misconduct cases involving top police officers, many of whom were forced to retire due to the allegations against them.

In all, about half of the Israel Police’s major generals — the highest rank below that of commissioner — have been accused of such abuse, and many of them have stepped down.

“Appointing a female commissioner will send a message to the public, indicate a change in priorities, and enable the organization to begin a process of restoring trust, within it and outside of it, as well as empowering and sprouting a new generation of female commanders, senior officers and future police chiefs,” Gamliel and Madjiboj added.

Sima Vaknin-Gil. (Wikimedia Commons/Hidro, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The potential candidates mentioned by Madjiboj are former head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate Orna Barbivai; Strategic Affairs Ministry director general Sima Vaknin; Israel Prisons Service (IPS) commissioner Ofra Klinger; former IPS commissioner Orit Adato; the Israel Police’s current Human Resources Department head Gila Gaziel; and Michal Teshuva and Merav Kirshner, both senior officers in the IDF’s Manpower Directorate.

Meanwhile, the feminist NGO Israel Women’s Network requested that Erdan appoint a police chief who has made the eradication of violence against women their top priority. This week saw a mass protest and women’s strike on Tuesday in protest of 24 women being killed by male family members and acquaintances in 2018.

The Goldberg Committee  that vets appointments said last week that it could not recommend 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. 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.

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich speaks at a press conference at the police headquarters in Jerusalem, April 17, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Candidates to become the next top cop reportedly include retired Dep. Commissioner Bentzi Sau, Jerusalem Police chief Dep. Commissioner Yoram Halevy, Tel Aviv Police chief Dep. Commissioner David Bitan, and as many as three candidates from the army’s senior ranks being considered for the post — 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.

Erdan, fresh from the stinging derailment of Edri’s appointment, is said to be reluctant to appoint an outsider. Alsheich came to the police’s top post from the Shin Bet security and counterespionage service, and, Erdan staffers say, often clashed with the Likud minister.

This was also the second time Erdan’s first choice for police chief has fallen through. In 2015, Erdan’s candidate Gal Hirsch, a former army general, was dropped after over some of his company’s dealings abroad were brought into question. Erdan instead nominated Roni Alsheich, who departed this week at the end of a three-year term marked by ongoing corruption investigations into Netanyahu, who chose not to give him a customary fourth-year extension.

Yet, despite previous failures, those close to Erdan also say he does not wish to appoint the two candidates who already got the Goldberg Committee’s approval, Jerusalem police chief Halevy and Tel Aviv’s top cop Bitan. The sources have not given a reason for the minister’s reluctance.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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