Israeli Police Force Must Tackle Hate Crimes

If the police force does not tackle hate crimes and politically motivated attacks, the violence could escalate to a deadly level.

Reuters

A stark warning was issued last month: “The growing socioeconomic gaps, the forecasts predicting rising poverty and unemployment, particularly in specific sectors of society, and the increased numbers of foreign migrants will all lead to a rise in crime rates and social protests, with grave concerns for attendant violence as well.”

These words were spoken not by a protest leader or a prophet of doom, but Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino at a conference of senior police officers, early last month. They were delivered before the murderous kidnappings of three Israelis and one Palestinian youth, and before the current round of fighting with Hamas raised internal tensions in this nerve-racked society, resulting in the thuggish bullying of “doves” – mistakenly referred to as “right” vs. “left.”

The Israeli experiment of creating a melting pot, attempting to emulate the merging of the hodgepodge of immigrants in the United States, has failed. The melting pot has melted away, leaving only alienation, while attempts to build solidarity have had little success.

The chasm is only widening between settlers and those who blame them for prolonging the conflict with the Palestinians and foiling any attempts to reach a resolution. The settlers have reaped maximal gains from their investments in local politics – they dominate the parties that control the coalition government, which links them directly to decision makers.

Opposing them are those who object to eternal wars imposed by extremists on all sides. It would be too simplistic to describe this central movement that strives for peace and security, and worries foremost about Israelis, not Palestinians, as a left-wing movement. This centrist bloc favors using military force for a worthy cause, and worries about Israel’s security more than the settlers, who endanger it with their delusional fantasies. When the two polar opposites encounter each other at barricades, it is the “doves” that need protection from the thugs.

Not all problems associated with law enforcement can be laid at the feet of the police. The chances that a culprit will be apprehended are greater than before, although they are still slim. Many more are remanded until the end of legal proceedings and the collection of sufficient evidence. There has also been a drop in the number of complaints against policemen using excessive force. Occasionally, the police are too effective, argued Danino: “We moved too quickly, and the courts and public prosecutors couldn’t keep up. There are too many delays in setting trial dates, and the increase in the number of judges dealing with remand cases comes at the expense of handling routine cases, leading to a need for a significant increase in the number of judges.”

Recently, the police force has been involved in eyebrow-raising organizational moves and missteps, resulting more from personal than professional considerations. The failure, after almost a year, to appoint a commanding officer for the elite crime-fighting Lahav unit has turned it into a joke. The signal intelligence (Sigint) branch in the Investigation and Intelligence department has been upgraded, bringing in an officer from the Israel Defense Forces’ famed 8200 intelligence unit and the Mossad. The branch dealing with prosecutions may be moved from its natural spot in the same department, bringing it under the police legal adviser’s department, only to ensure that the current legal adviser gets the rank of major general.

Tel Aviv District Commander Maj. Gen. Bentzi Sau had a good explanation for the absence of policemen acting as a barrier between thugs and “doves” at a demonstration that took place last Saturday. The demonstration broke up when sirens were heard and policemen rushed to deal with suspected fallen rocket pieces nearby, he said.

Ahead of a similar demonstration last week, organizers were summoned to a meeting with Sau, who promised to use great and deterrent force to protect the demonstrators’ freedom of speech, a promise he kept.

A special police task force was established two years ago at the Judea and Samaria Division to combat “price tag” attacks by extremists, but it is too small and localized. Such task forces are needed in other divisions, especially in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. They should report to the Investigation and Intelligence branch. If this branch is too busy pursuing pointless cases (like the Harpaz affair) or investigating moles within the organization, the task force should report directly to the commissioner. This is Danino’s responsibility, before the violence escalates to a deadly new phase.