Wanted: A Hungry Politician

The upcoming election will offer an opportunity to the politician who recognizes the public security portfolio in the next government as a springboard to the top.

Wanted for an essential public mission: An ambitious politician, hungry for advancement, who dreams of becoming prime minister and is willing to sacrifice his career - and even his life. The mission is fighting organized crime and the upcoming election will offer an opportunity to the politician who recognizes the public security portfolio in the next government as a springboard to the top.

In the war on crime, the current public security minister, Avi Dichter, who was a dominant and charismatic head of the Shin Bet security service, has not evinced the leadership he showed in face of the Palestinian suicide terror attacks during the second intifada. His term at the Public Security Ministry has been memorable mainly for problematic appointments and dismissals at the top of the police force and not thanks to his tough stance on crime organizations.

Dichter is in love with statistics and numbers, and the data speak in his favor: During his term there has been a clear drop in the number of murder cases in Israel. From 182 acts of murder in 2006, the number was down to 125 last year, and 109 this year through the end of November. (Murder is the most reported crime, with the clearest evidence, and its data are considered the most reliable measure of crime. In other crimes, such as rape, theft and threats, not all victims complain.)

The police's problem is that the public is not influenced by statistics, but rather by dramatic and extensively reported events. All the data in the world will be dwarfed by the murder of a mother in front of her children and husband at the beach, and all the reassuring statements to the press are worth nothing when passersby are hit in wars to the death between crime organizations. The police data on the thwarting of six such assassination attempts during the past two years don't reassure anyone. Violent crime in New York is far worse than in Israel, but according to public opinion polls, that city's residents trust their police force, and here that is not the case.

In the Israel of 2008, the criminals, not the police, are the culture heroes. Gone are the days when Bezalel Mizrachi sued Haaretz and won because his name was published as one of the 11 heads of organized crime in the country. Nowadays a person in his position would be paying a public relations expert just to make sure his name was not left off such a list. The media report on the shifts at the top of the crime families the way they report on promotions of executives in the business world. The crime bosses are celebrities who feature in in the gossip columns in much the same way as models, businesspeople and politicians. Ya'akov Alperon's funeral last month received the kind of television coverage normally reserved for state events, and it included reporting about the heads of crime organizations who attended as though they were heads of state.

The social change is also evident in the shamelessness of the criminals, who used to rub one another out in dark rooms and bury the bodies in the sand. Nowadays people are liquidated on main thoroughfares, and gang wars are fought in hotel lobbies.

There is no need to look into police files, or even the crime reporting in the newspapers, to realize that the worst problem the crime organizations are creating today is protection - or, as it is euphemistically called, "business partnerships." It is enough to eavesdrop on random conversations while standing in line, or at social gatherings, to hear about small-business owners who are required to pay off criminals; about an industrial zone where a "security company" operates that doesn't employ a single watchman, but anyone who doesn't pay has his business burgled; about a large company's struggle against criminals who have invaded a plot of land it owns and set up a parking lot there; and about ordinary citizens who became victims of threats and turned to bigger criminals to help them get rid of the nuisance, instead of complaining to the police.

The police force is perceived by the public as impotent against these phenomena, and even the achievements of recent years, in the extradition of Ze'ev Rosenstein to the United States and the move to extradite Yitzhak and Meir Abergil, seem, rightly or wrongly, like the American police throwing a bone to their hapless friends in Israel. The Americans, unfortunately, aren't interested in thwarting crime in Tel Aviv, but rather in preventing the smuggling of narcotics to Miami and California.

In the wake of Alperon's assassination, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened a special discussion on the war on crime and the police asked for additional money to buy surveillance and intelligence technology. Technology, however, can't reassure a fearful public. For this, leadership is needed, and it does not exist at present. Olmert cannot lead the war on crime, not even during the intervals between his interrogations as a criminal suspect himself, and Dichter has not lifted off.

The war on crime awaits the arrival of someone who will want to ride law and order into the Prime Minister's Bureau, and will exploit the potential inherent in the Public Security Ministry to take charge, lead and appear in the media. The Israel Police is waiting for Ehud Barak (currently the defense minister), for Silvan Shalom (Likud MK and former cabinet minister), for Meir Sheetrit (currently the internal affairs minister), for Dan Meridor (a former justice minister and now a Likud candidate) or Shaul Mofaz (currently the transportation minister and a former chief of staff). This could be their opportunity to rehabilitate themselves, just as opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu rehabilitated his crumpled career via his tenure at the Finance Ministry, an office that at one time was considered a graveyard for politicians' ambitions.