Israeli Police Commissioner to Finish Term Amid Netanyahu Probes

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Roni Alsheich at a memorial site for border police, September 13, 2018.
Roni Alsheich at a memorial site for border police, September 13, 2018. Credit: Rami Chelouche

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Thursday that he has substantive differences with the police commissioner on issues that affect public trust in the police, and that is why he decided against extending Roni Alsheich’s term as commissioner

“The commissioner and I had disagreements and differences of approach on various issues,” Erdan said at a press conference. “Some of these issues were substantive and weighty, and in my view, they affected the public’s trust in the police.”

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He said he had previously refrained from airing these differences publicly for the police’s sake, and he declined to elaborate on them.

Later in the press conference, however, he said he views the police’s “central challenge” as reducing crime in the Arab community. “Despite the enormous budget invested in this, crime in this community hasn’t dropped,” he added.

Alsheich has consistently refused Erdan’s request that he station more police in Arab communities on weekends, when there are more violent incidents.

The three candidates to replace Alsheich, whose term ends in December, are current police major generals Yoram Halevy and David Bitan and former police Maj. Gen. Moshe Edri, who is currently the Public Security Ministry’s director general, Erdan said. He added that he will ask each of these candidates to present him with a plan for implementing the minister’s policies. 

“I haven’t briefed the prime minister or any of my fellow ministers about the decision,” he stressed.

He denied that he was replacing Alsheich for political reasons. “Anyone who tries, like some tweeting politicians, to hitch a ride on this decision and attribute it to various political considerations has his own political interests,” he charged.

The police commissioner is appointed for a fixed term, and this should be extended only in “exceptional” circumstances, Erdan argued. “After I considered the matters that haven’t progressed the way I wanted, alongside the achievements, I reached the decision not to extend his term,” he said.

Erdan and Alsheich have had numerous disputes over both the police’s management and Alsheich’s personal conduct. Their rift began after police killed a Bedouin protester at a demonstration in Umm al-Hiran last year. Erdan relied on Alsheich’s assertion that Yakub Abu al-Kiyan was a terrorist who deliberately rammed his car into policeman Erez Levy, killing him. But subsequent evidence contradicted that assertion.

Erdan was also upset by Alsheich’s public statements about the police investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including a television interview in which Alsheich charged that private investigators had been tailing officers involved in the probe, without presenting any evidence of this. 

Erdan opposed Alsheich’s hiring of an external media advisor. He also thought the commissioner should have launched disciplinary proceedings against a senior police officer suspected of sexual harassment, whereas Alsheich backed Roni Ritman and insisted on keeping him as head of the prestigious Lahav 433 unit.

Erdan said he didn’t regret appointing Alsheich, who was a senior Shin Bet security service officer with no previous police experience. But he added, “Today I think we need to restore things to their normal course and appoint a new commissioner from the organization’s ranks.”

He also discussed media reports that Halevy, who is considered the leading candidate, had performed poorly on a polygraph test used to vet candidates. Erdan said that leaking polygraph results constituted “an infringement of unparalleled severity on the privacy of those examined, beyond the attempt to interfere with the appointment process.”

Last week, Haaretz reported that Alsheich was trying to prevent Halevy’s appointment and get his own term extended. The two have had a tense relationship for months because Alsheich suspects Halevy of holding talks with Netanyahu in an effort to obtain the commissioner’s job.

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