Days of Palestine

Sunday, January 29

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Police Super-commissioner? – Haaretz

M.Y | DOP -

Based on the justifiable assumption that the late Maj. Gen. Moshe Mizrahi represents the Israel Police in all its purity, a government body that doesn’t hesitate to investigate even its own commissioner or to record a conversation between the prime minister and a senior politician, it would be interesting to learn who was responsible for destroying his police career.

In a bizarre act, Gilad Erdan, then just starting out on his path as a politician, asked the High Court of Justice to order the national police chief to fire Mizrahi. Erdan, who at the time was considered close to Avigdor Lieberman, Mizrahi’s arch nemesis, had just been appointed public security minister.

The chair of the State Control Committee, Uzi Landau, was the first to get the unbelievable phone call from Stanislav Yazhemsky, who had stepped down from the police wiretapping unit with valuable information about which senior officials had had their phones tapped. He claimed that it was Mizrahi who had instructed him to conduct the taps in violation of the law. Landau helped Yazhemsky, whose testimony and evidentiary material helped to bring down Mizrahi. Later Landau served as public security minister and after that, with no small degree of irony, as a senior cabinet minister representing Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party.

The third public security minister, Gilad Erdan, was the one who had the “privilege” of firing Mizrahi officially, hurrying to do this in time to receive applause at a convention of members of the Likud Central Committee. The fourth minister, former Deputy Police Commissioner Yitzhak Aharonovich, held the job for five and a half years, all of them as a representative of Lieberman.

Over the past two decades, nearly every public security minister promised to shake up the Israel Police. But several things have never changed: The police remain an organization that is plagued by politicization and a culture of lies, and it employs a great many people who are inappropriate for the positions that they hold; no minister has succeeded in changing that, and many have seen their political careers suffer after they left office; the police continue to conduct large and complex corruption investigations, even against the most powerful people in Israel (at least up until three years ago).

The proposed changes to the police command structure, which will give Itamar Ben-Gvir greater powers than his predecessors, might have been used to undertake a true reform of the police. But, as the proposal is currently written, it’s just a jumble of words, requiring mountains of explanations to figure out whether it is just some coalition swag for Ben-Gvir or whether it represents significant change.

For instance, Section 8C, which relates to investigations. It says that the minister will have power regarding “policies in the area of investigations, the handling of cases and the [police’s] stand.” What does this mean? Will Ben-Gvir be able to decide that as a policy he wants the police to give lower priority to the war on corruption? Is this a matter that the public wants a politician to decide personally? Isn’t this an issue important enough to devote more than two days of deliberations in the Knesset?

Some 23 years ago, the Zadok committee recommended that “the minister may outline a general policy about investigations, including determining the principle priorities, but this should be done in consultation with the attorney general, the police commissioner and those in charge of police investigations.”

Perhaps this needs to be put into law. But there are concerns that the word “policies” is tantamount to “super-commissioner.” Could Ben-Gvir decide that the “policy” is that no electronic surveillance may be conducted without his approval, or that he must receive detailed reports on investigations being conducted by the police’s Judea and Samaria District in regard to anything involving Jews and nationalist crimes in the West Bank? What are these “policies”?

It makes sense to find a new way of dividing up powers between the police and the Public Security Ministry. If the minister is expected to implement policy, he must be given the tools to do so. But it’s a pity that the public discussion has to be undertaken when a provocateur with a problematic past is about to assume the job. It is even dangerous, when you want to hold such an important discussion with a gun pointed at the nation’s head because Ben-Gvir trusts Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu so little that he is not willing for the new government to be sworn in without these changes being made first.