Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Wednesday night announced he had removed former IDF Brig.- Gen. Gal Hirsch as a candidate for police commissioner, ending weeks of controversy surrounding his selection.
Saying that Hirsch was subject to “a campaign of defamation and character assassination,” Erdan apologized for the damage that has been caused to him and his family, but said the vetting process has taken far too long and he doesn’t see it ending any time soon.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement after Hirsch was withdrawn as a candidate, saying that he still thinks Hirsch “is the right man” for the job.
Netanyahu added, however, that “our appointments process is long, arduous and damaging, and undoubtedly deserves reexamination.”
Hirsch’s good name has been “trampled anew” by critics for a month, the prime minister said. “And for what? For agreeing to leave successful work and to report for a challenging and important national mission on behalf of all the citizens of the state.”
Hirsch’s agreement, “without hesitation,” to take on the job was met with “slander and denigration,” Netanyahu said.
“It is not proper to act this way toward someone who has sacrificed his best years, energy and talent on behalf of the State of Israel,” he said. “I have no doubt that we will yet hear much from Gal Hirsch. I would like the Israeli people to yet benefit from his talents, experience and abilities.”
The nomination of Hirsch last month to serve as the next inspector-general of the Israel Police was met with immediate criticism, including from current and former police officials opposed to a candidate from outside the organization.
Mainly, though, questions have been raised about the security company he runs, which has been named in an international investigation into a former Georgian politician, even though Hirsch is not suspected of any wrongdoing.
Hirsch’s nomination was also opposed by the families of soldiers killed in the Second Lebanon War, during which he led the IDF’s Division 91 (the Galilee Formation) and was the subject of criticism as two reservists from his command were kidnapped and killed by Hezbollah, triggering the campaign.
Hirsch was forced to resign over criticism of his actions during the war, though the state’s Winograd Commission cleared him of wrongdoing and ruled that an injustice had been done to him.
Opposition Knesset members said the police appointment imbroglio proved the ineptitude of Netanyahu and of Erdan, who is his No. 2 in the Likud.
They called upon the ministers to appoint a police inspector-general as soon as possible.
“While Jerusalem was under attack [by Arab stone-throwers], Bibi and Erdan abandoned Israeli citizens, especially Jerusalem residents, by leaving the police without an inspector-general,” the Zionist Union faction said in a statement. “Bibi and Erdan have lost control over Israel’s internal security.”
Meretz MK Ilan Gilon said Erdan displayed an unprecedented lack of professionalism and brought the police to a new low. He compared the appointment failure to the surprise attack on Israel in the Yom Kippur War.
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud), who slammed the Hirsch nomination when it was first proposed, praised Erdan for rescinding it.
Zionist Union MK Eyal Ben-Reuven, who is a friend of Hirsch’s, said he was sorry he would not become inspector-general. He said Hirsch is a suitable, moral person, an unstained fighter and the right man to lead the police for years to come.
“Unfortunately, various groups joined together and did everything possible to stymie his candidacy,” Ben-Reuven said. “It is too bad that a lengthy bureaucratic process caused such a suitable person to not receive this job. I hope Israel allows Gal Hirsch to continue to serve in key posts.”
In late August, about a week after announcing Hirsch’s nomination, Erdan and Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein agreed to extend by 45 days the term of acting Inspector- General Asst.-Ch. Bentzi Sau in order to allow more time for the Turkel Committee, which oversees appointments of senior civil-service officials, to vet Hirsch.
At the time of Hirsch’s nomination, his attorney, Dror Brotfeld, lashed out at officials in the Israel Police, giving a series of interviews including one with Army Radio in which he said the officials were hoping his client would fail, and mentioned by name Asst.-Chief Meni Yitzhaki, the head of the Investigations and Intelligence Branch.
The statements by Brotfeld and Hirsch against police officials named and unnamed were seen as a potential source of tension between Hirsch and the police brass if his nomination were confirmed.
Following the interviews, Weinstein’s office clarified that he first learned of the allegations against Hirsch from a foreign law enforcement agency, and not from the Israeli Police.
Other allegations regarding Hirsch noted that Georgia and Kazakhstan filed requests with Israel’s Justice Ministry to investigate Hirsch, in relation to his security firm Defensive Shield and its dealings with the Georgian government.
The investigation is part of a corruption probe involving former Georgian defense minister Davit Kezerashvili. Though Hirsch has not been linked to the probe directly, his company has maintained contacts with Kezerashvili.
The decision to nominate a candidate from outside the police came after a series of highly publicized scandals involving senior officers, including several who were fired or resigned due to sex crimes and sexual harassment allegations.
“I needed to look at the organization and see why there was so much damage to the public’s trust [in the police]. This is a person who comes from the army, a different organizational culture with different norms and standards, some better, some worse,” Erdan explained in an interview with Channel 2 hours after Hirsch’s nomination was first announced.