Far-right minister set to tighten grip on Israeli police

Israel’s Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is attempting to tighten his grip on Israeli police force after reports emerged that he will not extend the term of the police chief.

The decision was leaked to the Israeli media but has not been formally announced to Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, whose term is set to end in January.

Shabtai has regularly clashed with Ben Gvir, with the latter seeking to exert greater political influence over who is appointed to important posts in Israel’s police force.

In recent days Ben Gvir has reportedly been holding a series of meetings with top police commanders, and even former military officials, to gauge their interest in the post of police commissioner.

Benny Gantz, the leader of the opposition National Unity party, condemned Ben Gvir’s reported plans.

“The leaks from Ben Gvir about his intention to end the term of the police commissioner – a man who actually has contributed dozens of years to the security of the state – at a time when he is overseas for a sensitive family issue, embarrasses the state of Israel,” said Gantz.

“Ben Gvir is not fit to oversee the internal security of Israel and is harming the ability of the police to deal with great challenges,” he added, calling on the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire the far-right minister “long before the commissioner’s term ends”.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Shabtai wants to serve another year and was planning top appointments in the police force, which Ben Gvir was expected to reject.

A series of crises in recent weeks have resulted in Ben Gvir and Shabtai clashing over who should be appointed as chief of police in Tel Aviv, Israel’s economic and cultural hub that regularly sees opposition protests against the government.

Since becoming national security minister, Ben Gvir, has regularly courted controversy. At the beginning of this year, he stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque’s courtyards in occupied East Jerusalem flanked by police, a move that inflamed tensions with Palestinians.

A former member of the banned anti-Arab Kach party, he has frequently called Palestinian members of parliament “terrorists”, and has called for the deportation of political opponents.

There is increasing pressure on Ben Gvir to account for the deadly crime wave sweeping the country, particularly amongst the country’s Palestinian population.

Last week, Ben Gvir blamed the sharp rise in the number of deaths on Shabtai’s desire “to appoint his friends to jobs”.

Since the start of the year, some 100 people have been killed in crime-related violence in Palestinian communities in Israel, according to NGOs.

Palestinians in Israel have long complained of discrimination and police inaction against violence and crime that disproportionately affects their communities.

They say the police have failed to ensure their safety against organised crime gangs that have plagued them for years.

Some accuse Israeli authorities of complicity with criminals in a bid to weaken the social fabric of their community and make them feel unsafe.

Last week six former Israeli police chiefs and 42 deputy police commissioners called on Netanyahu to fire his far-right coalition ally Ben Gvir from his post as national security minister.

Ben Gvir poses “a tangible and immediate danger to the security of the State of Israel”, they said in an open letter to Netanyahu.

The police chiefs also asked Netanyahu for a meeting without Ben Gvir’s presence to “present proposals that would strengthen the police force” and “expand on the factors that led to this situation”.

Earlier this year, Ben Gvir launched a series of punitive measures against Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem, which some Israeli officials said could result in increased tensions.

There are fears now that Ben Gvir’s attempts to replace the head of the police could result in more power in the minister’s hands, particularly in light of the April authorisation of the establishment of a national guard directly under Ben Gvir’s control.

He has said that the force would focus on policing Palestinians, with political rivals accusing him of working to set up a “militia”, and potentially using the force to crack down on opposition demonstrations.

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