Ex-IDF Chief Eisenkot Barred From Top Posts if New Election Held

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Gadi Eisenkot at a conference in Herzliya, December 8, 2020
Gadi Eisenkot at a conference in Herzliya, December 8, 2020Credit: Moti Milrod

The law requiring a cooling-off period for senior defense officials forbids former army chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot from serving as a cabinet minister before April 2022 – even though he can be elected to the Knesset in the next election.

Eisenkot is considering entering politics, and a long list of party leaders have reached out to the former chief of staff recent weeks – including Gideon Sa’ar, who was one of the sponsors of the law that would keep him out of the cabinet for now.

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The law was passed by the Knesset in 2007, spearheaded by Likud and Meretz. It was intended to keep generals and other senior defense officials – military officers from the rank of major general and up, the heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet security service, police officers of the rank of major general and up, and the commissioner of the Israel Prison Service – from entering political life for three years from the last day of their service. Until the law was passed, the required cooling-off period was only six months.

The sponsors of the law explained at the time that “extending the limitations on the right of the heads of the security forces to be elected to the Knesset intends on guaranteeing the independent nature of the defense establishment.”

The law on Knesset elections was amended to include the option for defense officials to run in the second election after their retirement, no matter when it took place. 

Eisenkot finished his term as chief of staff in January 2019 and was officially discharged from the army three months later. Two Knesset elections have been held since his retirement, allowing him to contend in the proposed upcoming election if he so chooses. 

The 'cooling-off period' law bears no special status – so it can be amended by a majority of MKs who take part in the vote. Eisenkot is the only senior defense official who may run in the next election who will be impacted by this law, and therefore any amendment that would allow him to become a minister in the new government would be seen as changing the law for him personally. If the law is not changed, Eisenkot would be limited to the role of MK for the period between the election and April 2022 – potentially diminishing his motivation to enter politics.

When the law was passed, no one ever considered a political situation in which elections would be held one after the next. In practice these officials could have been prevented from entering the Knesset for up to seven years, in some cases, if the Knesset had seen out its full term. On the other hand, a new minister can be appointed at any time, and this can happen three years after the official’s retirement – unrelated to the dissolution of the Knesset or a new election.

Politicians now expect the Knesset to once again disband in the next few weeks, either due to the Knesset passing a law to call for new elections, or because a state budget for 2020 is not passed by December 23, triggering the dissolution of  the parliament.

Sa’ar, who left Likud last week and established a new party, has been close with Eisenkot since they worked together in the Prime Minister’s Bureau under Ariel Sharon in 2001. After Sa’ar founded his new party, he said that Eisenkot “is an impressive man with impressive abilities, who I hope will enter politics – and I will be very pleased if he will be at my side.” The chairman of the Telem party, MK Moshe Ya’alon, said earlier this month that if Eisenkot does enter politics, “then it is clear he will join my party, and I will lead.” 

Kahol Lavan's quid pro quo for senior officials

Meanwhile, Benny Gantz's party Kahol Lavan plans to condition the approval of the nomination of Kobi Shabtai as Israel's new police commissioner on the government's approval of the appointment of Haifa District Attorney Amit Aisman as the new state prosecutor, according to sources from within the party.

Earlier this week, Likud denied Gantz's request for the government to discuss Aisman's appointment, as well as the party's preferred nominee for the role of Justice Department's director general, Shimon Baron.

The High Court ruled last week that the government must appoint a permanent director general to the Ministry of Justice, a stance reiterated by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who said: "A coalition crisis cannot replace the duties of the government and the authorized parties to appoint people to fill senior positions."

The sources added Kahol Lavan received no inquiries on matter until now.

A search committee nominated Aisman for the job a fortnight ago, with committee members citing his organization and writing skills among his strengths.

"Through his dealings, [Aisman is] familiar with the present challenges faced by the law enforcement system. His vision is of public transparency and openness to criticism," the committee statement read.

In 2008, Aisman received a warning for instances of inappropriate sexual remarks to his subordinates in the prosecutor's office. Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn says the ministry won't prevent the progression of the appointment up the chain of command, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to thwart the appointment, forcing the High Court to deliver a ruling.

Kahol Lavan will adhere to the High Court's instructions by grouping the two senior appointments together for joint approval, the sources tell Haaretz.

Israeli Minister for Internal Security Amir Ohana recommended current Israel Border Police chief Kobi Shabtai takes over as police chief Tuesday. 

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