Editorial |

Where Have You Been, Israel's Police Commissioner?

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Israeli protesters against laws banning attending demonstrations more than 1 km from their homes scuffle with police, Tel Aviv, October 1, 2020.
Israeli protesters against laws banning attending demonstrations more than 1 km from their homes scuffle with police, Tel Aviv, October 1, 2020.Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

Maj. Gen. Motti Cohen has been acting police commissioner since Roni Alsheich left the position in December 2018 and then-Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan failed to appoint a successor. Three election campaigns, enforcement of coronavirus regulations, a wave of protests against the prime minister and the fight against crime in the Arab community all fell on Cohen’s shoulders as he tried to deal with the public’s deep crisis of faith at the same time.

As opposed to the reasonable relationship Cohen had with Erdan, his relationship with the current minister, Amir Ohana, is fraught with difficulties. Cohen tried to keep the police independent in the face of a minister who insisted on interfering in its work. Ohana wanted to strike a blow at the right to protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he pressured the police brass to impose fines on the protesters and use force against them on the pretext of egalitarian enforcement.

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Now it turns out that Ohana also attempted to obtain information and materials from ongoing investigations, while Cohen staved off demands coming from the minister’s office. But Cohen remembered to come swinging against Ohana, the envoy of the Netanyahu family, only now, once he realized that it has been decided to appoint the commander of the Border Police, Kobi Shabtai, as the next police commissioner. Only now that Cohen knows he won’t be appointed to the longed-for position does he remember to break his silence, to send an exceptional letter to all police officers in which he excoriates Ohana, and describes the latter’s misdeeds in conversations behind closed doors.

Where was Motti Cohen for the past two years? Why didn’t he speak up? Why didn’t he resign when he saw that the public security minister was trying to politicize the police according to the prime minister’s whims? How did he not publicly call Ohana out for his irregular actions in real time?

Cohen slammed the door on the way out, but he himself is to blame for much of the situation that he now decries. He should have raised his voice a long time ago, and on time. His cries now seem like the bitter complaints of a sore loser.

Nevertheless, his remarks should be a warning to the commissioner designate, Shabtai. The new commissioner, whose appointment was a surprise by any stretch, will feel in some way indebted to Ohana, who appointed him. If Shabtai’s appointment is indeed approved, he must immediately stand up for his independence and that of the police, and reject any attempt by the minister to interfere. At the same time, he must bolster the Investigations and Intelligence Branch of the police, and send a message both to the public and to Ohana that the police is not an operational arm submissive to the whims of the ruling party.

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

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