Chief Superintendent Ephraim Ehrlich was a sad man last night. He did not rejoice in the downfall of his rival, outgoing police chief Moshe Karadi, who resigned yesterday in the wake of criticism by the Zeiler Commission, which investigated suspected police misconduct during the probe of a 1999 murder allegedly committed by a policeman on behalf of a reputed crime family.
A chief superintendent beat out a commissioner. This was the surprising result of an investigation that began with one Tzachi - Tzachi Ben-Or, the police officer who may have committed murder and, after fleeing the country, was murdered - and continued with another Tzachi: Tzachi Hanegbi, the minister who appointed Karadi police chief.
Ehrlich is keeping his sadness to himself, concerning the goings-on in the Israel Police. National headquarters said he was not allowed to share his feelings with the media, which were the means that he used to pay Karadi back for his cold attitude toward him.
Karadi held the key to Ehrlich's future at one point. A coarse, effective tough guy, Ehrlich wanted to head the Southern District's central unit and get promoted to the rank of commander. Karadi went through the motions of interviewing the candidate, but didn't hide the fact that he preferred another officer, Yoram Levy. Ehrlich had no chance. Karadi's will was carried out and thus his fate was put in Ehrlich's hands.
Ehrlich couldn't ignore the gossip that he heard from his friend, Commander Amir Gur. When Ben-Or was killed in Mexico in December 2004, Ehrlich went to the Police Investigations Department (PID) and demanded an inquest. Ben-Or was apparently killed in connection with his alleged 1999 murder of suspected mobster Pinhas Buhbut at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer; Ben-Or policeman was allegedly serving as a hired assassin for the Parinyan brothers, a reputed crime family.
When the PID didn't deliver the goods that Ehrlich had wanted, he went to television journalist Ilana Dayan to tell her the story. He suggested that she speak to State Prosecutor Eran Shendar about the allegations. The publicity the media brought to the case eventually led to the formation of the Zeiler Commission, which featured Ehrlich as "Mister X."
In the commotion that the Zeiler report caused yesterday, it was easy to forget that the Ben-Or affair not only began in the police force and was buried there, but it was also exhumed by police officers.
Ehrlich and Gur were not the only officers who worked to bring the case to light. The elite unit of the investigations department, headed by Brigadier General Amichai Shai, collected evidence incriminating the Parinyan brothers. Without Shai's determination, the renewed investigation might have focused only on Ben-Or's death, rather than returning to focus on Ben-Or's alleged murder of Buhbut.
The situation at hand is not like in the United States, where the Federal Bureau of Investigation acts as a totally autonomous institution, bringing down corrupt municipal and state police. In Israel, the good guys and the bad guys are all cut out of the same cloth. It was the Israel Police that failed and the Israel Police that succeeded.
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter did an injustice to the force when he referred to the case as the police equivalent of the Shin Bet security service's Bus 300 affair. Of all people, Dichter - who rose in the ranks of the Shin Bet until he eventually headed it - should know the difference between forbidden relationships between police handlers and their sources, and the Shin Bet cover-up of the 1984 killing of two Palestinian terrorists who had been captured alive.
The Zeiler report was wrong in ignoring the politicians who failed to monitor the actions of the police and the PID adequately - i.e., the public security and justice ministers. These two ministries exist precisely so that they can supervise the law-enforcement authorities, without getting involved in the content of their investigations. This time, too, the politicians got off scot-free. They appointed the Zeiler Commission and evaded being mentioned in its report.
In Karadi, Dichter won himself a rival who is in no rush to forget. Public life is full of surprises, and it's not clear who will be in which position during the next round. If Karadi needs an example of these ups and downs, he can always look to Ehrlich.
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