Protecting the Whistle-blowers

The sad truth is that, in Israel, whistle-blowers can expect to be branded as troublemakers and punished.

The most interesting aspect of this week's Jerusalem police district affair is not about Maj. Gen. Niso Shaham and his relations with female police officers - yet another chapter in the old story of men and women, and of commanders and their female subordinates.

The truly fascinating element of the story is the alleged behavior of Shaham's subordinate, Brig. Gen. Nissim Edri, when the commander of the Zion Precinct heard the report - more strict interpretations dub it a complaint, while the less strict call it gossip - about his commander and friend. Edri made things difficult when he concealed the information, by his account, on the express wishes of the alleged victim. His explanation is less persuasive for why he persisted in his silence after he received a report from his own subordinate, who was the woman's commander.

In contrast to the initial popular version of the story when it broke, it seems there was no huge conspiracy of silence that involved enticements and compensation. Shaham did not know that Edri knew. Therefore, the focus is not on Edri's action, but rather his inaction. Why did he presume to consider himself the terminus for the information? What kind of organizational culture gave him the feeling that in deciding between two bad alternatives, the lesser evil would be not to pass on the report to the proper officials outside the district?

Edri's dilemma is not unique to the police, although it is more pointed because a law enforcement agency is involved. It is the obligation of every police officer, including female police officers who have been victimized and the station commander, to do their part to prevent offenses and prosecute the offender to the full extent of the law - whether the victim of the supposed crime is the officer him or herself, or a fellow officer.

It is possible that the policewomen who reported the matter by following the correct chain of command, and the commander of the station, had discharged their obligation. Although where no official complaint is filed - especially where the alleged victim refuses to file one - it is difficult to make a case against the offender, and therefore problematic to hear a report and launch an investigation based on it. But there are precedents: for example, the 2006 case involving Haim Ramon.

In terms of the public's faith in the system, the more senior the suspect, and the fact that he belongs to the law enforcement system - Ramon was justice minister when an indecent assault investigation was launched against him; Shaham is Jerusalem District commander - demands more urgent action, not less, to investigate the case and clear the air.

The motives a person has for keeping silent or, alternately, the motives of a whistle-blowing officer are of no consequence. He could be friend or foe to the subject of the report. In one case he could appear to be a sycophant; in another, seeking revenge. The key question is what message the establishment conveys in terms of its expectations from people who find themselves in such situations.

The sad conclusion is that hypocrisy reigns. The establishment, whatever branch, expects its people to keep silent and not to rock the boat. Naive people who obey the law, and perhaps also their conscience, will be punished as whistle-blowers. They will be branded troublemakers, and others who want to take care of themselves - especially those who take pleasure in the troubles of their competitors - will stay away from them.

The system will not reward them. It will persecute them, as evinced by the problems of Chief Superintendent Efraim Erlich, who took damaging information to journalist Ilana Dayan in 2005 and prompted the establishment of the Zeiler Commission, investigating charges of corruption and negligence. Assaf Hefetz might be the only police officer who survived the reputation of being a rebel to become police commissioner.

Former State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is one of the chief culprits for this state of affairs. In his report on the Boaz Harpaz affair, he negatively depicted the way a subordinate level (the office of the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff ) conveyed the actions of a superior (the defense minister). According to Lindenstrauss' method in other investigations, he encouraged officers not to ignore the ostensible offenses of a minister, chief of staff or a general who was a candidate for the office of chief of staff. The comptroller should therefore have protected the people who reveal corruption.

Likewise, the attorney general should have instructed the Shin Bet security service, once and for all, to stop covering for law-breakers and report alleged offenses of high officials who are protected by bodyguards. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was an outstanding example on the list, but not the last. Legal procedures will now be brought to bear on Edri, but the double standard creates many more like him.