Majority of Israel Police Top Officers Hold Degrees From Unaccredited Universities

'You study just to get the certificate and to raise your salary,' says a former police commander

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Israel Police insignia
Israel Police insigniaCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

More than half of the country’s most senior police officers, including Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, hold academic degrees from foreign universities that had operated branches in Israel in the past, but have since had their accreditation removed by the Education Ministry, Haaretz has found.

These include the University of West London, the University of Derby, and the University of Latvia.

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Long before Zoom became an integral part of our lives, these institutions employed what was described as “distance learning,” but in many cases, sources said, the studies were a farce.

“It was nonsense,” says a former senior police officer. “People would ask relatives to write their papers for them in English. Officers and noncoms realized that this was a degree you could do without studying and get a higher pay grade. There are those who really studied, but it’s almost impossible to really earn a degree while doing the demanding work of the police.”

Some of the police officers, however, insist that the studies were “very serious,” and included courses with lessons in various classrooms throughout the country, along with papers and tests.

Police commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Jerusalem District commander Doron TurgemanCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

While the degrees received from these academic branches were recognized at the time by the Education Ministry, senior figures in the police and the academic world are skeptical about the level of study. “People from the Israel Prison Service came to me to whitewash the degree they received from a university in England when they barely knew English; it wasn’t serious,” says a professor at an Israeli university.

Ten of the 18 most senior police officers hold at least one degree from these institutions, a freedom of information request submitted by Haaretz and the Hatzlaha nonprofit association reveals. Some have a number of degrees from these branches; Shabtai, for example, has a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Derby and a master’s in educational administration from the same school. Deputy Police Commissioner David Bitan also has two such degrees: A bachelor’s degree in education from Thames Valley University (the former name of the University of West London), and a degree in adult education from Derby. Bitan also has two undergraduate degrees from Israeli academic institutions. Maj. Gen. Peretz Amar, head of the police’s southern district, also has two degrees from the foreign branches.

At the Israel Prison Service, the situation is similar: Four of the six officers with the rank of major general hold degrees from the no-longer-accredited universities. Prison service southern district commander Moshe Ohayon has two such degrees: A bachelor’s degree from Derby and a doctorate from Babes-Bolyai University in Romania. He also has a degree from Ono Academic College. Prison Service Commissioner Katy Perry, it should be noted, has a bachelor’s degree and master’s degrees in Islamic studies from the Hebrew University, and a master’s degree in social sciences from the University of Haifa.

“The first rule of police organizational culture is that you study just to get the certificate and to raise your salary, and that academic studies aren’t important because the field has its own rules,” says Dr. Pini Yehezkeally, a former police commander and today the head of human resources studies at Achva Academic College and a lecturer at the University of Haifa, who has commanded police stations in Ofakim and Be’er Sheva.

Policeman on dutyCredit: Gil Eliahu

He says that the police are dominated by an “anti-intellectual culture” that suppresses all desire to study. “The organizational code is that you don’t have to show you’re curious, don’t ask questions,” Yehezkeally says, noting that getting 100 on one’s exams isn’t thought to have much bearing on police fieldwork. “The organization simply doesn’t want officers who think,” he says.

Criminologist Prof. Daniel Gimshi of Ashkelon Academic College, who left the police with the rank of brigadier-general, says that if it were up to him, all the degrees obtained from local branches of foreign universities would be voided. He said he objected to the recognition of these institutions when he was the police’s chief education officer in the 1990s, but the force’s human resources branch decided to accept them. “This apparently stemmed from the fact that some of the human resources people also had degrees like that,” he says. “When we asked for details of what is studied, what kind of tests are given and what the bibliography is, we didn’t get full details.”

Unlike in the police and the prison services, nearly all the senior officers in the Israel Defense Forces hold academic degrees from recognized and respected institutions. Chief of General Staff Aviv Kochavi has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the Hebrew University, a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard and a master’s degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins. Many IDF officers have degrees they earned as part of a joint program between the National Defense College or the Tactical Command College and the University of Haifa.

But the difference between the organizations shouldn’t surprise anyone. The IDF ascribes great importance to academic study, and for years such study has been an integral part of the advancement tracks of combat officers. Most such studies are financed by the army, in return for a commitment to several years of continued service. The police began to integrate an academic degree in its officers’ course 13 years ago, but while the army gives its officers advanced training in conjunction with their bachelor’s degree, and even gives them time off to pursue degrees, the police have no way to exempt an officer from duty while he studies; they only allow one day off a week for studies and provide only partial funding of the studies.

How necessary is it for senior security personnel to have academic degrees? Gimshi, for example, thinks that while it’s a good idea, it’s not crucial. “It certainly provides added value, but I don’t think it justifies investment by the organization,” he says.

Police officers on break Credit: Ilan Assayag

Others vehemently disagree. Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen, who served as commander of the military colleges, believes that academic studies have enormous importance for senior security figures.

“Fighting on the battlefield or even against the criminal world is not just a technical issue, but places where you need spiritual strengths,” he says. “These are complex environments, and senior officers must make decisions without having a training manual handy. Academia and studies give commanders the tools to make decisions independently, it gives them a compass.” He added that in an all-encompassing environment like the security forces, an academic background allows officers, “To look at their work from the side and ask questions … the studies give them the ability to stand up against the system and sometimes say, ‘You’re going at this wrong,’ – the ability to express an opinion.”

Prof. Badi Hasisi, who chairs the Institute of Criminology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, strongly advocates academic training for senior police officers. “Police without academic thinking won’t be able to find solutions for the problem that concerns them,” he says. “Experience is important; an officer with 30 years experience has seen more criminals than you or me, but that won’t resolve his problem if he doesn’t see the picture from a broader angle and try to come up with new solutions.”

Without knowing how to study the data and draw conclusions, they will continue to use solutions that were already tried and failed, Hasisi says. “When a person comes to work with a critical perspective, that’s an academic viewpoint. For example, the thought that perhaps to eradicate prostitution we won’t pursue the women, but might try another solution that they found in some European country.”

The Israel Police said in response, “The Israel Police considers [education] very important and invests in helping its members obtain education, professional training and expanded knowledge. Between 1996 and 2005 the Education Ministry recognized the degrees of branches abroad, in accordance with the conditions of the Council for Higher Education. In 2008, a program for academic studies began as part of the dedicated officers’ course, at the end of which all officers earn a bachelor’s degree from the Hebrew University. We regret the attempt to cast doubt on the studies of police officers whose education has been legally recognized.”

The Israel Prison Service gave a similar answer regarding the foreign degrees, adding, “Unlike the IDF, in which officers are sent to higher education with a full exemption from duty, the prison service has no similar track. In the past the prison service had similar training tracks, but they were closed due to budget constraints.”

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