More than a few rotten apples

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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 spake 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.

 

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 the PID's 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. Moreover, 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 as a whole 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 police officers, like their counterparts in the state prosecution, have forgotten that their status as public servant does not render them a privileged class above the "unwashed masses" who pay their salaries.

 

AND HERE we arrive at the wider systemic problem that Landau referred to. It is the same systemic flaw that caused the Zeiler Commission to be formed and the same problem that fomented the establishment of the Winograd Committee, whose investigation of the government's and IDF's conduct of last summer's war with Hizbullah is due to be completed next month.

 

For the past decade or so, Israel's elites in the public sector and in the media have repeatedly drawn an unsubstantiated distinction between professional bureaucrats and politicians. The former are upheld as incorruptible and upright while the latter have been decried as incompetent, unprofessional and inherently corrupt. This absurd distinction has engendered the view that our bureaucrats can do no wrong while our politicians can do no right.

 

And this is the heart of the matter.

 

Whether a person is fit to serve or not has far less to do with his resume than with his character. This is as true of so-called "professional" bureaucrats as it is of so-called politicians. In the case of the police, what men like Karadi, Ganot and both Levys, like Shendar and Spiro, lack is not professional qualifications, but integrity.

 

IN SHARP contrast, at the same moment that the disgraced professional Karadi announced his resignation, a purely political meeting in Tel Aviv took place that showed politics at its best.

 

At Likud party headquarters a group of Likud Central Committee members attempted to convince Uzi Landau to return to the Knesset. Landau failed to be reelected in last year's general elections largely because he refused to abandon his convictions.

 

Rather than close ranks around then party leader and prime minister Ariel Sharon, Landau led the internal Likud campaign against Sharon's withdrawal and expulsion plan from Gaza and northern Samaria. Now he is in line to reenter the Knesset to fill the seat being vacated by MK Dan Naveh, who has decided to leave politics in order to take a high-paying job in the private sector.

The Likud Central Committee has for years been portrayed by the media as the most corrupt enclave in Israeli society. Its members are castigated as hacks who, to a man, care nothing for the public welfare or the good of the state and are motivated only by an unquenchable appetite for political jobs and graft.

 

Yet, lo and behold, as the police force was dismembering itself on live television, these supposedly wholly corrupt Neanderthals were imploring one of the most ideologically driven and competent politicians in Israel to drop what he is doing and return to the Knesset for the good of the party and the country.

 

Unfortunately for both the party and the nation, Landau rejected their pleas. No, he has not abandoned his efforts to serve the country in favor of a lucrative private sector job. After leaving the Knesset last year Landau founded a non-profit organization called "Beautiful Country" that seeks to reinforce the general public's Zionist ideals by organizing subsidized nature hikes and tours of the country, and public lectures for people who are little involved in the issues of the day.

 

As he explained, Landau doesn't feel right abandoning the project now, before he has gotten it fully operational. In the next elections, he promised, he will think about running again if the party is still interested.

 

THE CONTRAST between the political meeting with Landau, the politician, and the spectacle of the professional police disgrace makes a point that is crucial for Israeli society understand if we wish to truly solve our systemic problems. Israel has many honest public employees, and it has many dishonest politicians. So too, it has many dishonest and disgraceful public employees and many honorable and admirable politicians.

 

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. 

 

 

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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