After the upsurge in violence in Arab communities surpassed 100 victims this year over the weekend, a slew of former senior police officials urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to oust National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
In a letter to Netanyahu, the six former police commissioners and 42 former deputy commissioners warned against the “impending collapse of the Israel Police.”
The signatories, who asked for a meeting with the prime minister to discuss the factors that led to this situation and present proposals that would strengthen the police force, included Yohanan Danino (2011 to 2015), Dudi Cohen (2007-2011), Moshe Karadi (2004-2007), Shlomo Aharonishki (2001-2004), Asaf Hefetz (1994-1997), and Rafi Peled (1993-1994).
The head of a police unit tasked with fighting crime in the Arab community, Deputy Commissioner Natan Bozna, resigned last Tuesday, a day after Ben-Gvir said he would appoint a policy coordinator to supervise the struggle against the rising casualties.
Channel 12 reported on Friday that Ben-Gvir reprimanded Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Kobi Shabtai in a conversation the day before, accusing him of not doing enough to combat the crime wave. “Instead of focusing on the appointment of your friends, start focusing on crime,” Ben-Gvir reportedly told Shabtai.
Itamar Ben-Gvir needs to start focusing on fighting crime
After taking over the ministry six months ago, Ben-Gvir – the head of the far-right party Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), which won six seats in the election – wasted no time in visiting the Temple Mount in early January to assert his power, and since then he has been on a campaign to expand his control over police operations.
Ben-Gvir has often locked horns with Shabtai, who has served as police commissioner since 2020, after running on an election promise to keep all Israelis safe. Ben-Gvir has publicly voiced disappointment in Shabtai’s performance, while crediting himself with securing a massive NIS 9 billion for his new National Security Ministry. This largess is to help fund new recruitment, salary increases of existing officers and the establishment of a National Guard that, he hopes, would be subservient to him. The last is a highly controversial move feared by some as providing Ben-Gvir with his own police force.
Speaking to reporters before the weekly cabinet meeting yesterday, Ben-Gvir reiterated his demand that the Shin Bet security agency be recruited to help in the fight against the crime wave in Arab communities, a move that Shabtai and the top police echelon oppose vehemently. “From the first moment of [coalition] negotiations, I said: The police’s blanket is small, the Shin Bet needs to enter the fray after everything that has happened in recent months,” he said.
Hadash-Ta’al issued a 12-point plan for defeating the Arab crime wave last Monday and asked for a meeting with Netanyahu, while shunning Ben-Gvir. Party head Ayman Odeh said that “in order to defeat the criminal organizations, trust is needed, and we have no trust in Ben-Gvir, the racist.”
In response to claims that Arab MKs were refusing to meet Ben-Gvir, MK Mansour Abbas, the leader of Ra’am, said that the opposite was the case. “Ben-Gvir does not want to meet with us and has paralyzed the entire system and pulled police forces from the Arab communities to other communities, so the result is terrible, and we are paying the price in human lives,” Abbas said. “The numbers speak for themselves.”
Dr. Muhammed Khalaily, a University of Haifa lecturer and an expert on Arab society at the Israel Democracy Institute, made a salient point in an interview with The Jerusalem Post’s Michael Starr last week: Many of the weapons being used in the Arab communities have been stolen or sold by IDF soldiers and police, as well as the Palestinian Authority security forces – and confiscating these weapons should be a top priority.
“How is it that the IDF can find workshops making weapons in Syria, but can’t stop those making or selling weapons in Israel?” he asked.
Rather than taking strolls on the Temple Mount or meddling in whether baked goods are served in prisons, Ben-Gvir should instead get a handle on this issue and take the bull by the horns: meet with security experts, police specialists, criminologists and Arab leaders – and focus all his efforts on curbing the violence and ultimately halting it.
This is Ben-Gvir’s test. If he can’t step up to the plate, he should resign – or be dismissed.