Ripples of a ‘Coup’: Israeli Police Chief Forced to Resign, Claims Political Coercion
Critics argue government’s push for judicial changes and its pressure on the police force undermines democracy
By Debbie Mohnblatt/The Media Line
Thousands of Israelis took to the streets Wednesday to protest the forced resignation of Tel Aviv police chief Amichai Eshed.
Eshed said Israel’s right-wing government had pushed him to step down after being angered by his refusal to employ “disproportionate force” against anti-government protestors.
His transfer to another, less powerful position resulted from “political considerations,” Eshed argued.
“I taught generations of police to recognize the limits of force, to safeguard our contract with the public,” the chief said. Of late, however, it had been made clear that restoring “calm and order” should not be his objective.
Wednesday night’s protestors obstructed Tel Aviv’s key Ayalon highway for hours. Police used horses and water cannon to disperse the crowd, arresting 25 and sending 14 to the hospital. The driver of a trapped vehicle injured one protestor with his car and was later arrested.
Tel Aviv is Israel’s second-largest city and a central hub of the country’s secular Jewish life. Hundreds of thousands of Jews, many of whom identify as secular, have been protesting for months against the government’s plans to restructure the country’s judiciary.
The government, Israel’s most right-wing since the country’s establishment, is supported by ultra-nationalist and conservative religious parties.
Critics call the government’s judicial changes a “coup,” but officials say they merely give parliamentary majorities the power to enact popular policies without undue Supreme Court interference.
Reichman University law professor Adam Shinar told The Media Line that Wednesday’s protests were a way for demonstrators to protest the politicization of state institutions.
Shinar said The chief’s resignation was not the main issue but rather “the reasons for his doing so.” Protestors interpreted the move as evidence “that the government is trying to stifle their protest by getting rid of police officers or bureaucrats who support, or are sympathetic to, the protests.”
Political studies lecturer Toby Greene at Bar-Ilan University said Eshed was known for opposing National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s demand that the police respond more harshly to anti-government protests.
The Tel Aviv police chief “has become a symbol of government institutions protecting the public’s democratic rights, including the basic right to free expression,” Greene told The Media Line.
The government’s attempt to remove him thus symbolizes “the politicization of state institutions by the most extreme elements of the current government,” he said.
Southern District Commander Deputy Commissioner, Peretz Amar, is set to replace Amichai Eshed and become the new Tel Aviv police chief.
Some have predicted the resignation will further energize the demonstrations, but Shinar says this mainly depends on the government’s next legislative moves.
Talks between the coalition and political opposition have broken down, and the government is poised to renew its parliamentary push to curb the Supreme Court’s powers, among other changes.
The government, Shinar said, is using the breakdown in talks to “advance judicial reform laws unilaterally.” The police chief’s resignation and the subsequent demonstration stem from the government and opposition’s inability to agree.
The coalition is now shepherding a new bill through parliament that would prevent the Supreme Court from reviewing the “reasonableness” of government actions. It expects the new law to pass by the end of July.
However, Shinar said this new law is “only a small part” of the government’s bigger plan. The most important legal reforms are still to come, including new rules empowering parliament to reject Supreme Court decisions, limiting the power of state attorneys, and rewriting the rules for selecting chief justices.
Greene says the future of Israel hangs in the balance. “For both government and opposition, this is a struggle to define the basic character of the state,” he said.
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