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Rift grows between Ben-Gvir, police commissioner over removal of Tel Aviv police chief

Police chief Yaakov Shabtai calls his decision to remove Eshed “a mistake,” while Ben-Gvir suggests that Shabtai’s approach to the protest movement is being influenced by the "radical left."

Tel Aviv District Police Commander Amichai Eshed oversees a protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial reform in Tel Aviv on March 11, 2023. Photo by Erik Marmor/Flash90.
Tel Aviv District Police Commander Amichai Eshed oversees a protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial reform in Tel Aviv on March 11, 2023. Photo by Erik Marmor/Flash90.

The rift between Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai surrounding Thursday’s removal from office of Tel Aviv District Police chief Ami Eshed appears to be deepening.

In a press conference on Saturday, Shabtai announced that he “made a mistake” in approving the removal of Eshed from his post over his handling of the ongoing protests against the government’s planned judicial reforms. Shabtai also indicated that he had considered resigning but decided to stay.

On Friday, the Police Chief Forum slammed Shabtai’s involvement in the removal of Eshed and called for his resignation.

On Thursday, Ben-Gvir announced Eshed’s demotion, on Shabtai’s recommendation, to the head of the police training department; the national security minister had initially sought to have Eshed dismissed. The announcement was made during another day of mass demonstrations against the government that included attempts at disrupting Ben Gurion Airport, which forced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to travel to the airport by helicopter.

The minister reportedly wanted a stronger response to the protests over the past 10 weeks, including in efforts by police to clear demonstrators from blocking the Ayalon freeway in Tel Aviv.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara subsequently froze the decision to remove Eshed, pending an examination of the legality of the decision.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 that aired on Saturday, Ben-Gvir suggested that Shabtai was under the influence of radical elements in Israeli society with regard to his management of the protests.

“I know the police commissioner is under several types of pressure. The radical left is pressuring him, and I hope he doesn’t surrender. There is a policy of the Israeli government, and the police commissioner needs to implement the minister’s policy,” said Ben-Gvir.

During the interview, Ben-Gvir also indicated that Baharav-Miara should not have intervened in Eshed’s dismissal, saying that she was attempting to usurp the responsibilities of his ministerial position.

Ben-Gvir also said that it had not been his intention to remove Eshed immediately from his post, but rather to have him stay until after the month of Ramadan, which begins toward the end of March.

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