Erdan’s Test

Will Erdan manage to develop a backbone, withstand political pressures — both overt and covert — and resist the temptation to hope for a political promotion as a reward for protecting the prime minister’s interests?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan at a Knesset session in Jerusalem.
Olivier Fitoussi

A prime minister suspected of corruption offenses, some of which are the subject of active criminal investigations, must not be involved in appointing the next police commissioner in any way. Otherwise, the situation might deteriorate into a new version of the 1997 Bar-On-Hebron affair.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit was right, therefore, to advise Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan that, when he begins consultations on the search and selection process for the next police chief, he must turn to the attorney general for guidance to prevent ministerial conflicts of interest.

The conflict of interest rules are very clear in this regard: Suspects do not select the officials in charge of their own investigators. The High Court of Justice was asked to rule on this issue in the past, when a criminal investigation was opened against Tzachi Hanegbi, who served at the time as public security minister.

Formally there should be no problem. The procedure for the appointment of the police commissioner is stipulated by the law. The public security minister proposes a candidate to the cabinet, which is then responsible for approving the appointment. The way to avoid conflicts of interest in which criminal suspects are involved in appointing the police chief is to instruct the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and ministers Haim Katz and Arye Dery, who are also under police investigation, not to take part in the deliberations and the vote on the next police commissioner.

But Israeli reality teaches us that the prime minister is very much involved in choosing the commissioner — through consultations with the public security minister and sometimes by expropriating the authority to appoint the commissioner from the minister.

That is why the attorney general raised the issue. All of those involved are aware that the formal directive — barring the prime minister’s involvement in the procedure — can easily be bypassed. But the attorney general is committed to act on the assumption that public officials will act as public trustees.

Will Erdan manage to develop a backbone, to withstand the political pressures — both overt and covert — and resist the temptation to hope for a political promotion as a reward for protecting the prime minister’s interests? This is Erdan’s test, through which he must decide with whom his loyalty lies, the public or Netanyahu.

The authority to appoint a commissioner is the cabinet’s and no other body may assume this power. Despite the habit the ministers have adopted to automatically obey the word coming out of the Prime Minister’s Office (or Residence), they must make it firmly clear to Netanyahu, Dery and Katz that the procedure involved in the transfer of command at the Israel Police to the next commissioner must be carried out without their intervention.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.