The maiden screening of a new film about the Israel Police, attended by Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich and closed to the media, turned into a show of force by the Habayit Hayehudi party, and particularly its far-right Tekuma faction.
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Sunday’s screening at the Jerusalem Cinematheque was attended by policemen, rabbis, public figures and MKs from the joint ticket run by Habayit Hayehudi and Tekuma in the last election. The film, “Ma’aminim Bamishtara,” is a documentary about a police program of the same name (known as “Believing in the Police” in English) that is aimed at recruiting more religious Zionists to the force.
The program was launched in the hope that religious Zionists, who are prominently represented in the army’s junior officer corps, could similarly help solve the police’s manpower shortage. The program enables recruits to be trained as police officers while also obtaining their bachelor’s degree and studying in yeshiva.
The program’s officials are all either current or former members of Tekuma or Habayit Hayehudi, and these two parties were the only ones whose MKs attended the screening. At the end of the screening, these MKs ascended the dais to be photographed alongside Alsheich, himself a religious Jew. The photos were then sent to religious media outlets and posted on the program’s Facebook page.
The MKs present were Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Tekuma), MK Bezalel Smotrich (Tekuma), MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) and Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, who switched from Tekuma to Habayit Hayehudi in the last election.
Nachi Eyal, one of the program’s founders, is the director general of the Legal Forum for Israel; he also placed fifth in the Tekuma primary before the last election. In an interview with Haaretz in December 2011, he said, “In another 10 years, we want religious Zionists to be able to serve in the police and feel comfortable, and for there be people who know what it means to send forces to evacuate settlers.”
Eyal added that in another 10 to 20 years, he wanted the head of the police’s Shai (West Bank) district to be a religious settler, and for the police to have at least another four or five skullcap-wearing major generals “who represent our community.”
The program’s director, Vadim David Shaulov, wrote a lengthy paean to Yogev on his Facebook page in which he noted that he himself has belonged to Habayit Hayehudi for years. The program’s spokesman, Arik Ben Shimon, spent four years as Ariel’s spokesman, a job he held until quite recently.
The media weren’t invited to Sunday’s screening, even though Alsheich’s predecessor, Yohanan Danino, had described the Believing in the Police program as being of “strategic importance” to the force. Even when asked, police spokespeople declined to provide pictures from the evening or answer questions about it.
Such photos would have shown Alsheich together with MKs who have recently made controversial statements on issues of law enforcement. Smotrich, for instance, denied that last summer’s deadly arson attack on a Palestinian family in Duma was an act of terror, while Yogev said this fall that the Supreme Court ought to be bulldozed after it delayed (but ultimately approved) planned demolitions of terrorists’ homes.
In addition, Believing in the Police in the past has repeatedly come under fire. In 2011, for instance, Haaretz reported that buildings used by the program had been built without permits in an unauthorized settlement outpost. This violated police regulations, which state that police activity can’t take place in buildings constructed without permits.
In 2014, Haaretz reported that Rabbi Dov Lior, who was investigated in the past on suspicion of incitement to racism (though never charged), had lectured at the program, as had Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, who has called for religious soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate settlers. Police responded that the program’s cadets heard lectures from a wide variety of rabbis, but that these talks dealt strictly with issues of Jewish law, not political or ideological issues.
Last December, a promotional video for the program was criticized for urging religious Zionists to join the police to fight terrorists, while making no mention of traditional police work like detection or preventing crime.