The Israeli Police: Public Servants Who Perceive Themselves as Above Law and Morality

Our World: More Than a Few Rotten Apples, by Caroline Glick (Jerusalem Post)

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“The mafia brings people into the police and they act as [the mafia’s] servants…The people in the police are afraid of nothing. A person who can take a half-a-million shekels inside a police station and not report it is someone who couldn’t care less and fears nothing. A police like this cannot endure.”

Thus spoke retired district judge Vardi Zeiler Sunday morning. Zeiler’s indictment of the police came as he presented the findings of the state commission he led which investigated allegations of police and prosecutorial mishandling of organized crime investigations and of police collusion with the Perinian crime family.

Hours after the Zeiler Commission published its report, housecleaning in the police high command had already begun in earnest. Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi announced his resignation. An hour later, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter announced he was appointing Prison Service Chief Warden Yaakov Ganot to replace Karadi and former Jerusalem District Commander Mickey Levy to replace Karadi’s deputy Benny Kaniak.

In explaining his decision, Dichter said, “I have reached the conclusion that in order to undertake policy changes, and especially in order to improve the performance of the 28,000 officers and men serving in the police, I must place a different high command at the helm of the organization.”

Praising Dichter’s appointments, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Ganot and Levy “can lead the Israel Police to achievements and successes in preserving the rule of law, public order and the provision of personal security to every citizen.”

Both Olmert and Dichter spoke of the urgent need to restore public faith in the police and promised that with its new commanders the police force is embarking on a new path that makes it worthy of the public’s trust.

UNFORTUNATELY, Dichter’s command appointments do not inspire faith that the police force will reform itself. Moreover, there is no reason to expect that simple replacement of senior commanders will suffice to fix what is clearly broken in the police force specifically, or in the public sector generally.

In 1994 Ganot was indicted for taking bribes. Although he was found innocent of criminal wrongdoing, the facts that led to his indictment – which are apparently undisputed – cast doubt on his fitness to serve as the chief of police.

While serving as the police commander of the Northern District, Ganot accepted unusually cheap contracting estimates for home improvements from a contractor whose base of operations was within Ganot’s geographical command. It is true that the state prosecutors failed to prove their contention that in hiring the contractor Ganot had accepted a bribe. But in behaving as he did, Ganot displayed at worst contempt, and at best an inexcusable misunderstanding of what it means to be a public servant.

Levy’s past service record contains an even more disturbing blot. In 1994, while serving as the commander of the Jerusalem Police station, Levy led his men in dispersing a legal demonstration against the Oslo process organized by the right-wing advocacy group Women in Green. As his men violently dispersed the non-violent, law-abiding demonstrators, Levy brutally attacked Women in Green leader Nadia Matar. After attacking her, Levy arrested her and filed a criminal complaint accusing Matar of attacking him.

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In a bit of bum luck for Levy, a Channel 2 camera crew filmed the episode. The film clearly showed Levy assaulting Matar as she passively resisted arrest for leading a licensed, legal protest.

Acting on Levy’s false testimony, the state prosecution opened criminal proceedings against Matar. After Matar’s attorney entered the Channel 2 footage as exculpatory evidence, the presiding judge advised the state prosecution to withdraw the complaint. It did so only after Levy testified under oath that Matar had assaulted him.

LAST YEAR, in its preliminary findings, the Zeiler Commission issued warnings to the former head of the Police Investigations Department and current State Attorney Eran Shendar and his successor at PID, Herzl Spiro, for what the commission viewed as undue willingness to close its criminal investigation against police Commander Yoram Levy for his documented untoward relationship with the Perinian crime family.

In Matar’s case, after the prosecution withdrew its charges, her attorney filed a request for the PID to open a criminal investigation of Mickey Levy on suspicion of assault and perjury. Here, in a manner disturbingly similar to his refusal to pursue the investigation of Yoram Levy, Shendar claimed that in spite of the Jerusalem police station commander’s prima facie false testimony against Matar and the film evidence of his brutality, there was insufficient evidence to indict him.

Both Ganot’s and Levy’s past records raise serious questions about the reasonableness of their appointments. Yet Shendar’s failure to properly investigate Levy on the one hand and Dichter’s willingness to appoint Ganot and Levy in spite of their problematic records on the other indicates that the problems that afflict the police in general and the public sector generally will not go away with the shake-up of the police high command. Those problems, as former internal security minister Uzi Landau puts it, are “systemic” and cannot be reduced to a few rotten apples here and there that need to be removed.

That systemic problem is not one of lawlessness so much as propriety. In a disturbingly large number of cases the Israel police, like its counterparts in the state prosecution, has forgotten that its status as public servant does not render it a privileged class above the “unwashed masses” who pay their salaries.

The challenge of our times is not to find a way to get the so-called professionals to oversee politics. Our central challenge is to ensure that our public servants in both appointed and elected office are honest and good people who have our best interests at heart.