The declaration by Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich that he will no longer probe anonymous complaints of sexual harassment in the force has raised the ire of the Justice Ministry’s police investigation unit, that announced Sunday it would continue to look into all such allegations regardless.
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“The department is authorized to investigate complaints leading to suspicion of the commission of a crime by a policeman even when they come from unidentified sources,” a department source said. “Every complaint that reaches the department will be investigated as has been done until now.”
The department also called on policemen and policewomen who feel personally threatened or who have witnessed sexual crimes against policewomen to report them – even anonymously.
Department officials spoke to Haaretz after a report Sunday on Channel 2 about Alsheich's declaration last week.
“Anonymous letters have turned into a culture of settling scores in the police force, and as such, from now on the police will not deal with anonymous letters that raise suspicions of violations by policemen,” Alsheich reportedly said. “In an organization that requires reporting by policemen, there is no need for such letters.”
Alsheich’s decision is rather problematic given the recent spate of cases of senior police officers coming under fire for apparent sexual harassment.
The case of former Jerusalem police chief Nissan "Niso" Shaham, for example, began with an anonymous complaint that eventually led to an indictment for sexual assault, sexual harassment, fraud and breach of trust. Similarly, the cases of former officers Hagai Dotan, Kobi Cohen and others who were forced to leave their jobs all began with an anonymous letter that was investigated and led to revelation of more concrete evidence.
Last week, Brig. Gen. Yael Eidelman, the commissioner’s adviser on women’s issues, opened a conference at the Police Academy in Beit Shemesh to mark International Women’s Day. She spoke at length about the advancement of women in the force and also mentioned its lack of tolerance for sexual harassment.
Immediately afterward, Alsheich took the podium and right away began to speak about the issue of anonymous complaints made by police personnel about a variety of matters, stressing that anonymous complaints about sexual harassment would also not be investigated.
Within the force Alsheich’s remarks were taken as criticism both of policewomen who have complained and of police personnel who became aware of incidents of harassment and passed the information on to the relevant authority anonymously.
“A policeman or policewoman who witnesses or receives information about sexual harassment or another violation, even a significant one, will not [report] it openly,” said one officer. “If the policewoman isn’t prepared to complain, then why should I come and raise the problem. The policewoman affected may claim, out of fear, that the reported incident never happened. So should I report? Should I not report?”
In private conversations Commissioner Alsheich broached the issue some time ago, after deciding to reinstate Maj. Gen. Roni Ritman as commander of the Lahav 433 fraud investigation unit, despite recommendations that Ritman be appointed to a different position.
Ritman was accused last year of sexual harassment but no evidence to back the claims were found and he returned to the force in December.
“I don’t have to 'sacrifice' him to the Molech,” Alsheich said, in a reference to the ministerial investigative department and the media.
The police spokesman said, “The Israel Police works on different levels to increase the reporting of violations and to support the complainants. These include improving the processes involved in revealing failures to report and surveys to identify problematic cultures in specific units
"The commissioner’s policy and the message conveyed to the policemen about the importance of reporting violations in real time have proven themselves and eradicated the phenomenon of ‘anonymous score-settling’ that often hurt the complainants themselves.”