The nomination of a former IDF brigadier-general to head the Israel Police appeared to hit new hurdles on Sunday, as Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein agreed to extend by 45 days the term of acting commissioner Asst.-Ch. Bentzi Sau to give more time for a probe of police chief nominee, Gal Hirsch.
In addition, on Tuesday the Turkel Committee, which oversees appointments of senior civil-service officials, is set to begin Hirsch’s vetting process.
The vetting process and the Justice Ministry probe are to focus largely on a corruption case to which Hirsch’s security firm may be linked, as well as his conduct as a division leader during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
The 45-day extension – which still needs approval by the government on Monday – could indicate that despite the controversy circling in recent days around Erdan’s selection of Hirsch, he does not intend to back down.
Hirsch’s attorney Dror Brotfeld lashed out at officials in the Israel Police in a series of interviews on Sunday, accusing them of having vested interests in seeing his client’s nomination fail. In an interview with Army Radio, Brotfeld mentioned by name Asst.-Ch. Meni Yitzhaki, the head of the police Investigations and Intelligence Branch.
He questioned why Yitzhaki only informed Weinstein of the information once Hirsch had already been nominated to head the Israel Police, saying “we must check what his interests are.”
Brotfeld contacted Weinstein on Sunday and requested to send him all of the documents relating to Hirsch’s businesses in order to finish the assessment. In an interview on Sunday, the lawyer said it consisted of 60 cases documenting the history of his business dealings.
Brotfeld’s accusations against Yitzhaki – one of the most senior and highly-regarded officers in the Israel Police – could be a source of tension between the two if Hirsch is eventually confirmed as the next inspector- general. Since last week, Hirsch’s nomination by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has been met with anger by many in the police force, who expected the next commissioner to be chosen from within the ranks of the organization.
On Sunday, the Attorney- General’s Office clarified that he originally learned of the allegations against Hirsch from a foreign law enforcement agency, and not from the Israel Police.
The statement went out of its way to defend the Israel Police from any charges of unjust interference in the process, stating that it had only forwarded information to Weinstein upon his request and after he had been informed of the allegations by the foreign source that he left unnamed.
Although according to one set of allegations the foreign source could be the FBI, the others that have arisen regarding Hirsch specifically said that Georgia and Kazakhstan had filed requests with Israel’s Justice Ministry.
In an interview on Channel 2 on Saturday night, Hirsch lashed out at unnamed police officials, whom he said were holding information against him and waiting for an opportune moment to use it.
The investigation in question concerns Hirsch’s security firm “Defensive Shield,” and its dealings with the Georgian government, as part of a corruption probe involving former Georgian defense minister Davit Kezerashvili. Hirsch has not been linked to the probe directly, but his company maintained contacts with Kezerashvili.
Kezerashvili, a Georgian Jew who lived in Israel as a teen, served as defense minister from 2006-2008, but was dismissed as part of a major cabinet reshuffle following Georgia’s defeat in the South Ossetia War in 2008. In 2013, he was accused of corruption by the Georgian government and arrested in France, though he was later released with electronic monitoring by the country in 2014, although France refused to extradite him.
On Sunday, Erdan met with a number of former top IDF officers, including former head of the Southern Command Maj.- Gen. (res.) Doron Almog; Maj.- Gen. (res.) Yoram Yair; Maj.- Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern, a former MK and head of the IDF Manpower Division; and Brig.-Gen.
(res.) Pinchas Buchris. They met for two hours at his office and they presented their standing on his appointment.
Two days earlier, Erdan met with bereaved families of soldiers who died in the Second Lebanon War, who protested the nomination of Hirsch. The relatives also hold him partially responsible for their loved ones dying under his command.
On Thursday night, acting commissioner Sau said he would stay on with the police for a further four months to assist in Hirsch’s transition, following earlier reports that he had decided to resign from the police following news of the appointment.
Hirsch originally became known in Israel for his controversial term as an IDF division commander during the Second Lebanon War. He was forced to resign over criticism of his actions during the war, although the state’s Winograd Commission cleared him of wrongdoing and said that an injustice had been done to him.
Erdan’s decision to nominate Hirsch surprised many, who had expected him to select the next commissioner from within the police. After a series of police scandals and sexual misconduct cases battered the organization’s public image in recent years, the public security minister’s nomination of someone from outside the organization has been viewed as indicating the extent to which he saw the police as being in need of a shake-up.
A representative of the Hirsch family said on Sunday that the would-be commissioner has received support from seven out of the 12 assistant-chiefs in the police, the highest rank below commissioner.Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.