Bar-Lev forced to take leave of absence

Final decision pending hearing; minister: District chief has shown inability to accept authority.

August 31, 2008 19:19
3 minute read.
Bar-Lev forced to take leave of absence

bar-lev 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Efforts by Insp.-Gen. David Cohen to force out one of Israel Police's most senior officers, Southern District Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev, took a dramatic turn on Sunday when Bar-Lev was compelled to take a 30-day leave of absence over his refusal to take a two-year study leave. The forced leave came after a surprising about-face by Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, who last week distanced himself from Cohen's attempt to fire Bar-Lev via the media, but who changed his mind on Sunday and said he would hold a hearing to decide whether or not to fire Bar-Lev. A meeting between Dichter and Bar-Lev on Sunday saw the decorated police officer, who has brought crime levels in his district down by 50 percent and is eight years away from retirement age, receive another offer of a prolonged study leave. Bar-Lev, who holds degrees in both engineering and political science, rejected the offer, saying he would be wasting public funds by agreeing. The annual cost of study leaves for senior police officers is estimated at around NIS 1.2 million, including the cost of a driver. "I don't want to be a leech on state funds," Bar-Lev told Dichter during the meeting. During a meeting between the two men last week, Bar-Lev had asked the minister, "Have I done anything wrong?" Not at all, Dichter replied, adding that he viewed Bar-Lev as one of Israel's most qualified and successful police commanders. Dichter repeated the same message live on Friday night during a broadcast of a Channel 2 news program. After speaking with Bar-Lev on Sunday, Dichter held a meeting with Cohen, who presented the minister with an ultimatum, a police source told The Jerusalem Post. "He told him, it's either Bar-Lev or me," the source said. A few hours later, Dichter released a statement to the effect that he was weighing the possibility of firing Bar-Lev for refusing to go on study leave, and would hold a hearing on the issue. Energized by the ministerial support he had been seeking to help force Bar-Lev out, Cohen then released a statement accusing Bar-Lev of refusing to accept his authority. "This creates a crisis of faith that does not allow for Bar-Lev's service in the organization," the statement read. "The Israel Police is a hierarchical body, where accepting authority and discipline are a foundation. "It is inconceivable that an individual, as senior and valued as he may be, will dictate to the organization which roles he will fulfill and when he will complete them," the statement continued. A police source said many in the force, from young officers to senior figures, were "shocked" by the development. "Why is Bar-Lev being fired? For refusing study leave? He has two degrees. He is willing to accept any role that is suitable for his 18 years of experience. In 2009-10, three roles are opening up that he can fill - the Jerusalem District command, the Northern District command, or the Human Resources command. But instead they are firing a man who everyone says is talented, and who has lowered crime substantially," the source said. Bar-Lev has taken on the services of lawyer Ya'akov Ne'eman, who sent Dichter a letter on Sunday morning demanding that he explain why Bar-Lev was being forced out. Speaking to the Post, Ne'eman said, "I wrote to Dichter saying the accusation that Bar-Lev is unwilling to obey orders is baseless. He is right to turn down study leave, this is a waste of public resources." Although tensions have long marked relations between Cohen and Bar-Lev, the current crisis was sparked by a reshuffling by Cohen of police brass that is expected to go into effect in May or June. The shake-up has been marked by Cohen's desire to help out old friends such as Cmdr. Shai Amihai, head of the police's Human Resources Division, a police source said. Amihai, who has passed the retirement age of 57, was given an extension to stay in the service by Cohen. After learning of Amihai's extension, several other commanders also requested extensions in their posts as district commanders past their retirement ages, the source said, leaving no room for Bar-Lev, who was supposed to be rotated to a new district. Talk of a committee of investigation into the crisis was already being heard on Sunday, as a legal source called on former senior judge Vardi Zeiler to form a panel to examine the issue. "Everywhere else in the country, criminals are running riot, except in Bar-Lev's Southern District. And yet, it is Bar-Lev who is being pushed out of the police force. This is irrational," the source said. "This affects everyone who wants to see crime under control."

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