Israel's Police Chief Doesn't Understand His Job

Alsheich seems to have trouble grasping that the police's job is to protect the citizenry, not to protect themselves from the citizenry. His two latest innovations exemplify his deep confusion

Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich.
Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich. Olivier Fitoussi

Roni Alsheich, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet security service, was parachuted into his current post as police commissioner because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan wanted somebody from the outside. Many people wondered at the time whether it was right to bring in a commissioner who had risen not through the ranks of the police, but through those of an intelligence agency that combats domestic subversion, and who didn’t thoroughly understand the essence of the police’s function and their day-to-day operations.

Two years later, Alsheich seems to have trouble grasping that the police’s job is to protect the citizenry, not to protect themselves from the citizenry. He hasn’t managed to rid himself of the idea that the citizenry is hostile to the police, as if they were enemies. And this is evident not only in his attitude toward Israeli Arabs, which appears to be based on the assumption that they are subverting the country.

Alsheich’s two latest innovations exemplify his deep confusion. This week, he proposed that the police finance civil suits by policemen against people who humiliate them in public (“shaming”), on top of launching criminal proceedings against such people for insulting a public servant (Yaniv Kubovich, Thursday.) Are police more vulnerable than other people to incitement on social media? And what message are the police sending to victims of incitement who don’t work for an organization that can finance their civil suits with taxpayer money?

Even more ludicrous is his proposal to set up a youth movement that would educate children to obey the law and promote the police’s values. Alsheich, who adopted an idea he heard from a child, hopes in this way to counteract the negative influence of the children’s parents. Once again, the citizenry (in this case, parents) is being portrayed as a hostile force that requires the police to serve as an alternative educator. The police and the Education Ministry are already working on developing activities and programing for this youth movement, without asking themselves: Since when do police forces set up youth groups?

It’s important to teach children values, and youth movements are a beneficial element of the system made up of all those who take part in shaping our young people. But this is definitely not a job for the police, which is responsible for enforcing the law and keeping the peace.

It’s also important for Alsheich to care about the values of Israel’s young people. But he would serve this goal better by ramping up educational activity among his own policemen, so that they will set a good example for our children, and by dealing thoroughly with cases in which policemen act in contradiction to the police’s values – those same values that he seeks to inculcate in our youth.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.