Question Marks in the Police Force

Has Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch lived up to the standards that he himself has set?

When Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch entered office some two years ago, his appointment raised two questions: Would he be able to overcome any lingering resentment over the end of his police service, when he served as deputy commissioner but was not appointed commissioner? And would he be wise enough to run the ministry without any intervention - direct or indirect, in reality or in appearance - by his party's leader, eternal criminal suspect Avigdor Lieberman?

The first question has been answered satisfactorily, on the whole. A retired officer who becomes the politico in charge of his former organization has advantage in knowing the field and in formulating ideas. But such a situation also has disadvantages, in the form of bias on certain issues or toward certain people.

Aharonovitch did not live up to the standards he himself set for the police commissioner's appointment: He wanted a veteran police commander, preferably with a deputy commissioner's experience. Nor did he fulfill his stated desire to appoint a Prison Service commissioner from the service's ranks.

However, it cannot be said that he foisted arbitrary and unprofessional changes on the police. Even those who disagree with his claim that Yohanan Danino was the best candidate for police commissioner do not doubt Danino's qualifications, or that both men truly desire to improve the police force.

But the second question, concerning Lieberman, continues to haunt Aharonovitch despite his bitter protests. Lieberman is no longer under police investigation; only a hearing stands between him and an indictment. But his longstanding hostility toward the police's investigations and intelligence division and his insistence on giving the public security and justice portfolios to members of his Yisrael Beiteinu party sent a challenge to the law enforcement agencies. Lieberman will be the one who decides whether Aharonovitch and the party's other ministers remain in the cabinet and whether to fight for increasing the police budget.

The fear of being portrayed as Lieberman's paroled prisoner was expected to restrain Aharonovitch's decisions about changes in the police force upon Danino's entry into office. But on Wednesday, he made a slip of the tongue, implying that personnel cutbacks in the force's premier investigation unit, Lahav 433, would undermine corruption probes against public figures.

The cutbacks may well have a logical explanation, relating to the different priorities of headquarters versus field units or relations among the various commanders. But the burden of proof is on Aharonovitch.