Photo Credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90
Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, then commander of the Border Guard, September 28, 2017.

On Tuesday night, the Jewish residents of Lod, including the Religious Zionist enclave that has been studying Torah and doing outreach in the city for two decades, announced that they refuse to meet with Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai after the latter’s unfortunate statement that he plans to deal with “terrorists on both sides.”

It’s the kind of even-handed statement one would expect from, say, the BBC, or the AP: Jews and Arabs are involved in mutual, violent clashes. The statement did not befit the head of Israel’s police, who has access to the data that show at least 10 synagogues were attacked and burned in the past week by Arab rioters across Israel, and at the same time, 28 mosques were exposed as weapons storage sites. 112 Jewish homes have so far been burned in Muslim riots, compared to one house of an Arab family in Jaffa, which turned out to have been set on fire by Arabs. A total of 673 Jewish homes were vandalized and 12 Arab homes were damaged. 849 Jewish-owned cars were set on fire, compared with 13 Arab-owned cars. Saying he would “terrorists on both sides” suggested the commissioner believed responsibility for the mayhem was split, fifty-fifty.

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In response, the organized Jewish residents of the mixed city of Lod issued this statement:

Over an entire week of violent riots that have already claimed human lives, the police did not do their job. Tonight, the residents of the neighborhood were asked to come to a meeting with the commissioner to discuss the issue. The residents of the neighborhoods, the people who live this reality every day, who experience violence and looting and arson – will not agree to serve as a colorful and smiling background for the commissioner, while he is trying to produce headlines that contradict what is actually happening on the ground.
Over too many years we have contacted the Israeli police countless times, and time and time again we have discovered that she is failing in her role and abandoning our security. When things peaked last week as part of the severe disturbances experienced by the Jews of the city of Lod.
Almost no arrests were made, and we did not see enough police presence in the neighborhoods until we acted ourselves. So far, we have not seen any illegal weapons being collected, although it is clear to the police who holds them.
Therefore, we had to refuse to attend a meeting that does not provide a solution to the danger that the residents of the neighborhoods are still facing while the police are engaged in creating an image of quiet.

The biggest problem for the Netanyahu government with the habitually bumbling Israeli chief of police Kobi Shabtai is that he was groomed and installed by the PM’s most trusted man in this government, Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana. Israel’s left-wing despises Ohana, for standing up to the state prosecution and the supreme court, and for refusing to restrain his criticism of noxious elements in Israel’s Arab community. Like Netanyahu, Ohana is a good public speaker and a relentless, unabashed warrior.

So it is unclear how these two experienced and occasionally brilliant political fighters chose a police commissioner who can’t seem to move without putting his foot in it.

In the last month alone, three dramatic events have taken place where the police under Commissioner Shabtai’s command has shown incompetence bordering on criminal neglect: the Mt. Meron catastrophe, where 45 Israelis were killed; the Hamas-driven riots on the Temple Mount and in the neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem; and the riots by Israeli Arabs in mixed cities around the country.

All three cases will be remembered by Israelis for the fact that the police either couldn’t or outright refused to help. And all three cases were marked by statements made by Police Commissioner Shabtai or his representatives that should not have made.

Mt. Meron

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai (L) and Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana on Mt. Meron shortly before the disaster. / Police Spokesperson’s Office

An eyewitness at the Meron tragedy told Ha’aretz: “The cops decided to stop traffic at some crossing, and people were pushed. They started suffocating. Everyone in the front row was horribly crushed. Just squashed on the floor. It was just packed there with people. There were iron partitions on the sides, so there was nowhere to move. A lot of people saw relatives crushed and wanted to understand what was going on. They tried to push in the direction of the yeshiva and were beaten up by the police.”

The police response was that the disaster was unavoidable and that you can’t blame the police if people are falling on top of each other. And so far it appears the police was right: the structural problems in the Meron compound have been there for more than half a century, with countless reports by government officials pointing them out and warning of the coming doom. The question is: if the police commissioner was aware of the inevitable catastrophe, why didn’t he refuse to allow the Lag B’Omer festivities to take place anyway?

There was a whole mishmash of responses by Shabtai and the district commander Shimon Lavi as to who was responsible and was responsibility the same thing as blame. But in the end, people died on Mt. Meron because the police commissioner caved to political pressure and allowed the festivities to take place.

Jerusalem Riots

Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai speaks to the press near the Damascus gate following the Arab riots, April 24, 2021. / Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

There were several reasons for the eruption of Arab violence in the neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount: Hamas decided to take off the gloves following PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to cancel the parliamentary elections; the eviction of six squatting Arab families from their Jewish-owned homes had been dragged down by countless court appeals with the Supreme Court’s scheduled review falling on the month of Ramadan; on Israel’s memorial day, which clashed with the first week of Ramadan, police turned off the loudspeakers of the Al Aqsa muezzin which were turned up high to purposely overpower the ceremony in the Kotel plaza; the TikTok terror attacks against Jews that went on practically uninterrupted; the police district commander decided to limit Arabs from their traditional gathering place outside Damascus gate; and about 15 thousand Israelis marched through Jerusalem carrying national flags on Jerusalem Liberation Day – all these events taking place on Ramadan.

Hamas was determined to ignite eastern Jerusalem even if the Israeli police had banned all Jewish activities in the city for the duration of Ramadan, and policemen served trays of sweet Kanafeh cakes dipped in honey to every Muslim. But the police commissioner and his senior commanders delivered such perfect volleys for Hamas to smack down, it was a celebration of shortsightedness and incompetence.

All of which was topped by Commissioner Shabtai, who announced:

The one responsible for this intifada is Itamar Ben Gvir. It started with the Lehavah demonstration at the Damascus gate, continued the provocation in Sheikh Jarrah, and now he is hanging out with Lehavah activists in the cities. Yesterday we managed to calm down Akko and he arrived with activists on the bus and caused unrest. The police have no tools to deal with it.

Otzma Yehudit chairman Ben Gvir, not known for turning the other cheek, hit back:

It is clear that the police want to shut me up after I called this morning to fire the commissioner. Kobi Shabtai is acting like we’re a Banana Republic. It won’t shut my mouth, the commissioner has to go home. he who is unable to take care of stone-throwing and Molotov cocktails – let him return the keys and go home.

On Tuesday night, Minister Ohana finally saw the light and tweeted the kind of message that can dual-serve as an epitaph for his scorned police commissioner:

An outrageous statement by the commissioner that should not have been said. In order to address the problem, it must be recognized: Arab rioters attacked Jews, police, and synagogues. The policy is to act aggressively in the face of the terrorist rioters. There is no and there was no symmetry. Yes, even the few who attacked Arabs will be dealt with severely. From here to “two sides” – the road is very long.

The commissioner will probably not be handed his pink slip while various emergencies are competing for attention – the war in Gaza, the Arab pogroms and riots in the mixed cities, and the riots in eastern Jerusalem. But should Ohana—obviously with Netanyahu’s consent—opt to keep his man in office, for the time being, some reeducation is recommended.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.