Israel Must Cleanse Its Police Force, Not Tear It to Shreds

The police, tarnished by scandal, need to be shaken up, but they must not slacken their efforts to root out the rot in the public service.

Haaretz Editorial
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 Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino.
Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino.Credit: Moti Milrod
Haaretz Editorial

The police are experiencing the worst leadership crisis in their history under the baton of Commissioner Yohanan Danino. No less than five major generals have been forced to retire after being suspected or accused of sexual and moral offenses or for consorting with a suspect; a sixth major general gave up a possible promotion “so as not to get dirty.”

The current commissioner has strived to improve the police’s image and has talked with his people about employing advanced management methods. But he has failed the basic test of every system that relies on deference to orders and laws: the enforcement of discipline and ethics.

This failure can be seen in the serial entanglements of senior officers. The unavoidable impression is that women cops are victims of an atmosphere of sexual harassment and assault. There is also an impression of close connections among police officers, rabbis and their followers, and dubious “associates” like attorney Ronel Fisher, a suspect in a bribery investigation.

Disciplinary problems can also be seen in the police’s use of deadly force against Israeli Arabs, which has caused needless deaths of civilians. There has also been violence against social protesters and opponents of the Gaza war last summer.

The police are essential to ensure Israel’s quality of life, to root out all types of crime and to bolster democracy. Their success depends on the public’s faith, which can be acquired not through PR but by strictly protecting human dignity and civil rights. There must also be fair service to victims of all types of crimes, while the police must set an example via uncompromising obedience to their orders and the law.

But despite the leadership problems, the police under Danino have chalked up an impressive achievement in the corruption investigation into the Yisrael Beiteinu party. Israelis should remember this when weighing the record of the outgoing commissioner, and more importantly, when his successor is being chosen — one of the most important decisions to be made by the new government after the March 17 election.

The next commissioner will have to revamp the organization, which includes zero tolerance for lawbreaking and discipline problems. He must strengthen the public’s faith in the disgraced organization.

But the politicians who appoint the next top cop must not use the crisis to hinder the determination of the people investigating government corruption. The police need to be shaken up, but they must not slacken their efforts to root out the rot in the public service and the people who make their living from it.

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