Israel's Police Chief Is Defying Public Trust by Protecting Suspected Sex Criminals

Roni Alsheich stepped into the role of commissioner after a series of scandals and sexual harassment allegations. Recent events put the appropriateness of his appointment in doubt.

Israel Police Comissioner Roni Alsheikh, in the Knesset, February 9, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

Roni Alsheich was brought into the Israel Police from the Shin Bet security service with the aim of rehabilitating the force, which had been plagued with embarrassing scandals. In the past few years, six police majors general had to resign and others were placed under investigation. Menashe Arviv, head of the major crimes unit, was ousted over graft allegations, while Central District commander Bruno Stein was forced to leave over suspicions that he took bribes from attorney Ronel Fisher. Traffic Police commander Yaron Be’eri remained in his post despite allegations of improper fundraising.

But the police scandals that made the most headlines were the ones in which senior commanders were accused of sexual offenses and sexual harassment. In four years, four majors general – Niso Shaham, Nissim Mor, Hagai Dotan and Kobi Cohen – were forced to quit the force in the face of such allegations. A fifth, Yosef Pariente, resigned suddenly in 2014 despite being a candidate for national commissioner, saying he didn’t want his personal life subjected to scrutiny. A sixth, Roni Ritman, was suspended over allegations of sexual harassment.

All this makes the new commissioner’s announcement that anonymous complaints about sexual harassment by police officers would be ignored even more puzzling. Speaking at an International Women’s Day event, of all places, Alsheich said: “Anonymous letters have turned into a culture of settling scores in the police force, and as such, from now on the police will not deal with anonymous letters that raise suspicion of violations by policemen.”

It should be noted that by law, employers are required to investigate information about sexual harassment in the organization, even if provided anonymously. But beyond that, Alsheich’s remarks convey a problematic message to policewomen and sexual assault victims in general.

Alsheich seems to prefer a turf war with the Justice Ministry’s department for investigating police officers over guaranteeing a safe and egalitarian work environment to the female police officers who serve under his command. His remarks jibe with his decision to lift the suspension of Ritman, head of the major crime unit. That, despite the fact that then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein closed the sexual harassment investigation against Ritman due to the statute of limitations, not because the complaints were not credible.

Alsheich’s comments, along with remarks in another context in which he said there is a difference between the grief of Israeli Jews and that of Palestinians, raise questions about the appropriateness of his appointment. His candidacy was championed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who chose Alsheich over Bentzi Sau, who had been acting commissioner for several months.

Alsheich must restore the public trust in the organization that has been put into his hands; above all, he must restore the organizational culture of the Israel Police.