ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Tel Aviv police chief skips Ben Gvir ceremony removing him from his post

Amichai Eshed claims his transfer to training department is political; national security minister brushes off queries as to why top officer was not at event

Israel Police Tel Aviv District Commander at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem April 20, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
Israel Police Tel Aviv District Commander at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem April 20, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Amichai Eshed, the Tel Aviv district police commander, did not attend a ceremony Tuesday during which he was to be transferred to a new position considered of lower ranking.

Eshed has claimed in the past that moving him to head the police’s training department was a “politically motivated” ploy by Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir aimed at ousting him from the force.

The officer announced Monday he would not attend the top brass ceremony at Ben Gvir’s Jerusalem office, during which eight senior officers were promoted in rank or given new positions.

Eshed is currently on vacation but would not attend the ceremony even if he were at work, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

Haaretz cited sources close to Eshed as saying he skipped the ceremony to attend the circumcision of his grandson. Eshed was said to be weighing either legal action to prevent his change in job role or resigning from the force.

Eshed was not expected to participate in the handover sessions needed for him to take up the position of training chief.

Asked about the Tel Aviv commander’s absence from the promotion ceremony, Ben Gvir retorted to reporters they should “ask him [Eshed] why he didn’t arrive.”

Ben Gvir and Shabtai said last week that Southern District Commander Deputy Commissioner Peretz Amar will replace Eshed in Tel Aviv. Shabtai, who also has a troubled relationship with Ben Gvir, revealed at the time that he would end his term in January and not seek an additional year in the role.

In March, Ben Gvir announced that, at Shabtai’s recommendation, he was transferring Eshed to a new position, after slamming Eshed’s handling of the mass protests against the government’s judicial overhaul push. The move was temporarily frozen by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, who raised concerns that the timing of the transfer was politically motivated.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, right, and Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai attend a ceremony at the National Security Ministry in Jerusalem, on July 4, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Both Shabtai and Ben Gvir have insisted that Eshed’s removal had been planned in advance. But Ben Gvir also said his decision to make the move at the time was tied to the commander’s handling of the protests in Tel Aviv, where the minister accused police of being overly patient with demonstrators even when they blocked major roads.

Shabtai approved Eshed’s removal, apparently in light of longstanding tensions with the top officer, but later admitted that the timing was an error.

In May, Shabtai summoned Eshed for an interview about taking over the training department but the latter instead responded with a letter in which he claimed that the police chief’s “considerations are personal, political, and contrary to the instructions of the attorney general.”

Israel has been rocked by mass demonstrations since early January when the government unveiled its far-reaching plans to neuter the judicial system. Protesters have warned that the proposals would weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters claim it is a much-needed reform to rein in an overly activist court.

On Monday, thousands of demonstrators caused chaos by clogging roads leading to Ben Gurion Airport and packing into a terminal hall as they stepped up protests. Dozens were detained during scuffles with police but were all later released.

At the police ceremony, Ben Gvir commented on the disturbances, saying that all members of the Israeli public have “freedom of expression to express their opinion in a nonviolent manner” but that there are “red lines that they must not cross.” He said police were “up to the task” in handling the airport protests and noted that no flights had been delayed.

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