Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai showed the country, once again, why he is unfit to continue to serve in his role.
Last week, in a revealing interview with Yediot Ahronot, Shabtai recommended shutting off access to social media if riots break out again, like the ones that swept the country during Operation Guardian of the Walls in the Gaza Strip in May 2021.
“I am of the opinion that in such situations, the networks should be blocked,” Shabtai told the popular daily. “It’s already a war. The social networks are the ones that take people out into the field. I’m talking about a sweeping closure of the networks. Turn it off, calm the area and let the situation calm down,” he said.
“We are a democratic country, but there is a limit. You come and strike a sweeping cut for a certain period of time, with supervision, of course; calm the situation and stabilize.”
“The world of TikTok broke out in a crazy way, and with the combination of what happened in the Gaza Strip and the rockets towards Jerusalem, it gave people legitimacy for violence.”Kobi Shabtai
The police chief claimed that the riots during the operation last year caught the defense establishment by surprise and that there was no intelligence information predicting such events.
“Not the police, not the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency], not the IDF – no one predicted that there was going to be disturbances in the communities involved,” Shabtai said. “The world of TikTok broke out in a crazy way, and with the combination of what happened in the Gaza Strip and the rockets towards Jerusalem, it gave people legitimacy for violence.”
Shabtai claims nothing is his fault
It was a classic Shabtai. Everyone is to blame but himself. This is the same police chief who, after the greatest civil disaster in Israel’s history – the trampling to death of 45 people at the Meron Lag Ba’omer celebrations last April – said that he is not to blame.
He continues to claim that he is not to blame for the tragedy – which he commanded over and was actually present at Mount Meron when it happened – even after the state-appointed commission of inquiry sent him a warning that he might be found culpable for what had happened.
Meron, riots in Israel, a violent and wrong police response at the funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a rising murder rate in the Arab sector and more all seem to mean nothing to Shabtai.
Although this is unfortunate, it is not surprising. Sadly, as we know, Israel does not have a culture of responsibility or accountability. Instead, the modus operandi in this country is to cling to power and never let go until you have no choice. This is what Shabtai has learned from a former prime minister; why should he think he needs to act any differently?
Thankfully, a significant number of Israeli officials rejected Shabtai’s undemocratic call to shut down social media. Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel said that a comprehensive examination of relations between the state and social networks was conducted in the past year.
“It is not possible to close all social networks with a button,” he said. “[But] it is possible through agreements in the Knesset – which do not exist today – to tighten regulation and legislation to prevent incitement, calls for violence and to encourage transparency.”
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh responded to the police chief’s comments with a tweet reading “a democratic state? I’m not convinced that he understands the concept.”
What Shabtai is ignoring is the July State Comptroller Report that found “noticeable deficiencies” in the operations of law enforcement in mixed cities before and during the widespread violence that broke out last year.
“The violent riots during Operation Guardian of the Walls revealed significant deficiencies in the operations of the police and in the interface between police and the Shin Bet. These deficiencies severely harmed the most basic personal security that Israeli citizens are entitled to,” the comptroller said.
The report stressed that while police were aware of the possibility of riots flaring up in a pattern similar to the ones that broke out during Guardian of the Walls – and had even defined this threat in detail and expressed it in operational plans – they failed to respond appropriately once the threat was actualized during the operation.
In other words, this is not about social media but rather about how police prepare for their missions. And who is responsible for that? Shabtai.
It is time he understands that he has failed. Israel needs a new police chief.