JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Tel Aviv’s police commander said on Wednesday he was quitting the force, citing political intervention by members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right cabinet whom he said wanted excessive force used against anti-government protesters.
Tel Aviv District Commander Ami Eshed did not name the far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir who had demanded tough action against protesters blocking roads and highways in unprecedented demonstrations against the government’s contentious push to overhaul the justice system.
Soon after Eshed’s announcement, hundreds of protesters carrying Israeli flags and chanting “democracy” marched through Tel Aviv. Some blocked a main highway, lit fires and faced off with police on horseback.
In a televised statement, Eshed said he couldn’t live up to the expectations of what he called “the ministerial echelon”, which he said had broken all rules and had blatantly interfered in professional decision making.
“I could have easily met these expectations by using unreasonable force that would have filled up the emergency room of Ichilov (Tel Aviv hospital) at the end of every protest,” Eshed said.
“For the first time in three decades of service I encountered an absurd reality in which ensuring calm and order was not what was required of me but precisely the opposite,” he said.
Ben-Gvir, who in March had informed Eshed that he will be assigned to a new role on the force, a move seen as dashing his chances to be made police chief, said in a televised statement that Eshed had crossed a dangerous line.
“Politics has seeped into the most senior ranks in Israel and a uniformed officer has caved to senior politicians on the left,” he said.
Ben-Gvir, a hardliner with past convictions for support for terrorism and incitement, had sought greater authority over the police force when he was tapped to serve as its overseeing minister, prompting concerns about police independence.
Having recanted some of his views, Ben-Gvir joined Netanyahu’s new coalition in December, alarming liberals at home and abroad. The leader of the Jewish Power party has since rebuked police for its treatment of protesters.
Other members of Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition have echoed Ben-Gvir, saying police have shown favourable treatment to the protesters who have filled Tel Aviv streets weekly since January, compared with what they see as far harsher treatment of settlers and ultra-Orthodox protesters.