Shabtai: I will not let the police be a scapegoat for Mount Meron

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana said that members of the media have attempted to drive wedges between police and government officials.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana with Israel Police chief nominee Kobi Shabtai (photo credit: Courtesy)
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana with Israel Police chief nominee Kobi Shabtai
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A week after the tragedy in Meron, Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai became the only responsible party to appear on camera and provide answers for his part in the disaster.
In a conversation with N12, Shabtai spoke about the role the police played in the events, the pressure they were under from politicians to not enforce a limit on the number of participants, and a phone call he had with Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, after which he decided not to send a letter demanding the establishment of a state commission of inquiry.
“My conscience is clear; I’m not going to resign,” Shabtai said. “Various forces are making this difficult for the police, and I will not allow them to turn us into scapegoats.”
Speaking about where he had been when the incident took place, which ultimately killed 45 and injured more than 150, Shabtai said he had been preparing to go home for the night before they had to begin preparations for Ramadan the next day.
Before he arrived home, however, he received a call detailing the events, and returned to the scene of the disaster.
Shabtai said he has not publicized his opinion on who did or didn’t do what connected to the tragedy, for fear of disrupting the investigation, but hopes that others will independently reach the same conclusions.
“It feels like they are making things difficult for the police,” Shabtai said. “It’s easy to place all the responsibility on the police. But I won’t allow them to become the scapegoat of this event, when at the same time other parties responsible for organizing the event evade accountability.”
All religious events take place in a vacuum, Shabtai explained to N12. They do not need business licensing or approval from the police, and there is a lack of people willing to take responsibility for the event itself.
Shabtai confirmed that the issue regarding what can and cannot be allowed at religious worship events is currently “an explosive topic.”
The police knew there were dangers and weaknesses at the Mount Meron compound, but there was no way of doing anything about it, Shabtai said.
“I could say ‘ok, I’m banging on the table and saying this event will not take place’ but would the event really not take place?” he asked. “It’s like saying the Temple Mount or the Western Wall plaza will be closed tomorrow.”
He reminded N12 that last year during the coronavirus pandemic, when the celebrations were not taking place, tens of thousands still arrived at the location to confront the police. And this year, when there were no lockdown restrictions, it would have been impossible to prevent the event from taking place.
Shabtai declined to comment on statements from Yosef Schwinger, director-general of the Center for the Development of Holy Places and an associate of Interior Minister Arye Deri, who placed the blame for the disaster solely on the police.
According to N12, he said that a neutral and serious investigation into the events would be absent of pressures from various sectors that were present in the event.
Shabtai declined to say whether he expects there to be a commission of inquiry or not. He told N12 that Ohana had instructed him not to send a letter to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit demanding the establishment of a state commission of inquiry as he had originally intended to, and he ultimately chose to follow his advice.
“I don’t want to go into the dirty laundry of words like guilt and blame,” the police chief said, commenting on the statement made by Ohana after the event. “When an inquiry is established under the authority of a judge, they will check all the necessary factors, and then we will know who is to blame and who is responsible.”