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.

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 blocking his hopes to be made police chief, said on Twitter that the district commander’s remarks proved he was a political commander.

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. The leader of the Jewish Power party has since on occasion rebuked police for its treatment of protesters.

Other ministers have also accused police of showing 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.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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