Haaretz Editorial

Fertile Soil for Conflicts of Interest

If suspicions against Rabbi Pinto are verified, this case is not just about bribery, but also about obstructing justice.

Businessman and Rabbi Yishayahu Pinto was arrested last week on suspicion of attempting to bribe Brig. Gen. Ephraim Bracha, a senior officer in the Israel Police's investigations and intelligence department. It was Bracha who turned Pinto in to the head of that department, Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich. If the suspicions against Pinto are verified - and, of course, he must be presumed innocent as long as he has not been convicted - then this case is not just about bribery, but also about obstructing justice.

Such offenses are serious, and it is worth taking a moment to admire Bracha's decision to turn in Pinto, as well as Segalovich's decision, backed by the state prosecutor and attorney general, not to be deterred by the fact that Pinto exerts a great deal of influence over politicians, the wealthy, journalists and even police officials, past and present.

It is these last officials whose relationship with Pinto is perhaps the most troubling; it was also the root of the ties between Pinto and Bracha. Pinto has not denied such ties, at least according to published reports, nor does he deny giving gifts to the officer and his family; what he denies is asking for anything in return. That is the primary matter currently under investigation. The court, which released Pinto and his wife Deborah to house arrest for two weeks and has banned them from leaving the country for six months, currently appears to believe the version of the story told by the police, not the rabbi.

High-ranking police officers are a prominent presence - whether in or out of uniform - in group pictures in which Pinto appears at the center of the shot, as well as in videos documenting his activities. There is something shady about these frequent visits to rabbis. Their reputations as spiritual teachers notwithstanding, some rabbis are involved in quite materialistic matters which occasionally overlap with the police intelligence and investigations department. The benefit for both sides is clear: The rabbi secures the image of having ties to the police, and the officers secure the goodwill of someone who can whisper into the ears of those responsible for promotions within the police force.

It is up to Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino to make it clear to the officers below him that they must avoid getting close to this gray area, which can become fertile soil for future conflicts of interest. Not every officer can be relied upon to act with the integrity of Baruch and Segalovich.