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Israel's attorney general blocks Security Minister Ben Gvir from replacing police chief due to 'ulterior motives’

First time in Israel’s history minister seeks to dismiss a sitting police chief

Chief of police Kobi Shabtai with Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of a terror attack in the Jewish settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, outside of Jerusalem, Aug. 1, 2023 (Photo: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90).

Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara is blocking National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir from dismissing Police Chief Kobi Shabtai, accusing him of making this highly irregular move out of “ulterior motives.”

On Monday, Israeli media reported that Ben Gvir, who is responsible for the Israel Police, summoned Shabtai to a hearing to begin a dismissal process. Shabtai’s term is set to end in another month and a half.

Ben Gvir previously declared his intentions to replace Shabtai while supporting Deputy Commissioner Avshalom Peled as an alternative candidate. This would be the first time in Israel’s history that the minister in charge of the police would dismiss a sitting police commissioner.

Shabtai has reportedly had numerous clashes with Ben Gvir since he became the head of Israel's National Security Ministry in 2022.

The attorney general instructed Ben Gvir to cancel the hearing because he didn’t provide adequate grounds for firing Shabtai, and accused him of acting out of “ulterior motives.”

“Therefore, there is a legal impediment to holding the hearing,” she wrote in a letter to the National Security Minister.

Baharav-Miara added that Shabtai told her this week that Ben Gvir “once again exceeded the boundaries of your authority regarding the Israel Police” and that he was summoned to the meeting shortly afterward.

“The proximity of the timing raises serious concerns that under the guise of supposedly principled claims against the commissioner, you are actually seeking to ‘punish’ him for seeking to prevent you from improperly interfering in the work of the police, all while you are acting, apparently, contrary to the express decision of the High Court of Justice,” the attorney general wrote.

Baharav-Miara reportedly told Ben Gvir that summoning the police commissioner to a hearing requires substantive evidence to justify such an “irregular step,” and said that the letter the minister issued in summoning Shabtai was insufficient.

The left-wing activist group Movement for Quality Government in Israel (MQG) said it would appeal Ben Gvir’s decision to Israel’s High Court. 

“Summoning the commissioner for a hearing by the minister, with empty claims of ‘dysfunction,’ is a blatant attempt to interfere with the independence of the police and the powers of the professional echelon," the MQG stated.

“This is a clear deviation from the minister’s powers and a violation of the rule of law.”

For his part, Ben Gvir outlined the reasons for his decision in a letter to Shabtai, citing his performance since Oct. 7 as the main reason.

“In recent times the signs and claims of your general dysfunction are multiplying, in a way that negatively affects the functioning of the Israel Police in general, and in this war period in particular.”

“For example, in the preparations for the Meron events, you did not appear for the summary assessment of the situation on the subject, nor did you visit the command center in the field, and according to senior police officers - you were completely ‘out of touch.’”

Ben Gvir continued in the letter: “This is in addition to the non-existence of in-depth meetings and status meetings chaired by you on the issue of crime in the Arab sector and criminal organizations, despite my instructions on the matter, the absence of discussions and instructions regarding vehicle thefts, traffic accidents, recruitment to the police, implementation of budgets, equipment and procurement, and general management of the police, while the police report to me about your general absence from your work.”

“Actually, the only thing you function in is promoting only officers close to you,” Ben Gvir charged.

Among the various disagreements between Ben Gvir and Shabtai was the police conduct during the anti-judicial reform protests in Israel last year.

In March 2023, Ben Gvir announced he would remove Tel Aviv District Police Chief Ami Eshed during the protests, while Shabtai later protested the decision saying that Eshed would remain in his post until the attorney general intervened on the matter. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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