Caving to Right-wing Pressure, Israel Police Backs Out of Civil Rights Event

The police's chief legal officer was supposed to represent the police in the event, but canceled in the last minute. He cited 'personal reasons,' but right-wing news website boasted that appearance was canceled after it approached cabinet minister.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich.
Olivier Fitoussi

Israel's chief of police ordered a police representative to cancel his participation in an event organized by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) due to right-wing pressure. 

The Israel Police Attorney General, Assistant Commissioner Shaul Gordon, initially told organizers of the Saturday event marking International Human Rights Day that he had to cancel due to personal reasons. However, a source in Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich's office said it was the police chief who ordered him to cancel two days prior to the event.

At the same time, the right-wing website Mida reported that the police representative's participation in the event was cancelled after the website itself had approached Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on the matter.

ACRI organized the event at Tel Aviv's Cinemateque to mark Human Rights Day, centered on a panel headed by reporter Gal Gabay and with the participation of Gordon, ACRI Director Sharon Abraham-Weiss, political activist Bentzi Salamsa, Likud MK Yehudah Glick and publicist Rami Yones.

The event was scheduled far in advance and ACRI sent the police a request to send a representative. The police chose Gordon as their representative in November in coordination with ACRI.

ACRI managers were surprised Thursday afternoon when they received a phone call from Gordon saying that he couldn't participate. Gordon apologized for the last-minute cancelation, citing personal reasons.

Police spokesperson, Commander Meirav Lapidot, also said that Gordon had cancelled for personal reasons that prevented his participation. When ACRI contacted Alsheich's office to clarify the issue, however, a representative of the police chief's office, Dorit Greenburg, informed them that Alsheich himself had decided against police participation in the event and had effectively cancelled Gordon's participation.

By late afternoon, ACRI managers began to believe that there was a behind-the-scenes effort by right-wing activists to prevent the participation of various individuals in the event, and that various conversations took place between Public Security Minister Erdan and other participants in the event.

After the right-wing website Mida reported that the police representative had cancelled his participation with a "leftist organization" after the website itself had approached Erdan on the matter, ACRI understood the story that the police were trying to hide.

Pressure was also applied to MK Glick to boycott ACRI's event, but he told Mida he hadn't been deterred. "Two weeks ago I spoke at a memorial for Rabbi Kahane even though my opinions aren't aligned with his," Glick told Mida. "When I'm invited to speak, I speak and say what I have to say. I don't subscribe to the idea that I'm only allowed to speak with those who think as I do."

Abraham-Weiss responded to the situation saying that, "From a social point of view, there is a discussion here that includes a number of settlement communities, Arabs and Ethiopians. The fact that the police cancel at the last minute shows contempt. What bothers me is the delegitimization, the growing boycott against social and civilian organizations. There is also the serious issue here of reliability from the side of the police. Until Mida revealed the real reason for the cancellation, they just didn't tell us the truth."

Israel Police said in response to the report that Gordon was forced to cancel his participation due to "work requirements deriving from his position. All the rest of the speculations are the publisher's opinion and don't necessarily have a direct link to reality."