Jerusalem - Israel saw the resignation this week of its police commissioner following the thunderous release a report on the investigation into the worst law-enforcement scandal in the history of the Jewish state.
Most Israelis saw the departure of Moshe Karadi — as well as the head of the Tax Authority in a separate scandal — as a positive step in the painful process of cleansing the country’s corrupt governing circles. It was the replacement of the commissioner by another tainted figure that reignited the ever-growing flame of public indignation.
An hour and a half after Karadi’s resignation, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter named his replacement: Prisons Service Commissioner Yaakov Ganot. Twelve years
ago, citing reasonable doubt, a three-judge panel of Supreme Court justices acquitted Ganot of taking bribes, but concluded that “his behavior is not suitable to a policeman and can hurt the reputation of the police.” Then the state attorney general recommended Ganot be fired or quit. He was suspended from the police for three years; after his return, he became the first head of the newly created Immigration Police, which human rights groups condemned for its brutal methods in rounding up and deporting illegal foreign workers.
Many Israelis — including retired judges and serving police officers — threw up their hands in despair at Dichter’s choice of Ganot. The irony, they say, is that a man who was suspected of taking bribes and left with a stain on his name was appointed to lead the war on corruption by replacing a man who was never accused of taking bribes. “We expected a shakeup, but we got nothing of the sort,” one officer told Ha’aretz, echoing the views expressed by others in the Israeli media.
“We thought the next commissioner would be a man with a spotless reputation, whose appointment would convey a message, and what did we get? Ganot.”
Retired Supreme Court judge Mishael Cheshin criticized Dichter personally, telling Israel Radio, “If this is the way they plan to rehabilitate the faith in the police, I don’t know what can be done.”
Dichter defended the move, saying that he had few choices because no one wanted the job. Ganot, he added, is known for being “a man of action” — and the Israeli police need a serious cleanup.
Ganot calls himself a “battle horse” and compares himself to former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who, despite the stain on his career following the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon, went on to become the premier.
In addition to revealing a society increasingly unwilling to look the other way at improper conduct that was once tolerated, the public outrage over the choice of Ganot reflects a disenchantment with the notion that Israel needs a get-things-done bulldozer with dirty hands to purify a tainted system or lead the country.
That new attitude is the outcome of an extraordinary period in Israel’s history when the president, prime minister, defense minister, justice minister, finance minister, military chief of staff and Tax Authority director are or were under investigation, and have either already resigned or may have to in the near future due to leadership failure, corruption or sex scandals. Three petitions calling for the cancellation of Ganot’s appointment already await the Supreme Court.
“What you see today is a process of catharsis where we are cleaning out the stables,” said legendary activist Motti Ashkenazi, 62. As a reservist in 1973, he led the anti-government protests following the devastating Yom Kippur War, which brought the resignations of Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan.
Corruption is not new in Israel, but the combination of stronger judicial leaders and the public’s total lack of faith in the country’s major institutions — government, police, military, presidency — appears to be driving the emergence of a new set of norms and values in Israeli society.
“After many years when people like myself warned that the negative processes can bring the collapse of Israeli society, the public understood it cannot attain quality of life without a clean political memsad, a clean civil service.”
Part of the credit, says Moshe Negbi, renowned legal expert from the Hebrew University, goes to stronger individuals in the legal system. “I think we passed a few years with a weak legal system, where people did not hesitate to break laws,” he said. “The law enforcement system lost its deterrence and was forgiving toward public figures. Now there’s a turn for the better toward dealing with criminals, corruption and VIPs. Without a doubt, norms are changing. But it depends in the end on the person who is judging. If that person is determined, trustworthy, decisive and assertive, that will determine the change.”
Lack of accountability, experts assert, is one of the most serious problems in Israeli leadership. Negbi said that Ganot should have resigned 12 years ago and the present government should have resigned after the failures of the recent war in Lebanon. “But we don’t have a culture or education of accountability here,” Negbi said. “People don’t take responsibility for their actions, except when forced by the court system.”
Indeed, although a poll last month published by Yediot Aharonot said that 71% of the people want President Moshe Katzav to resign, he refuses despite serious criminal allegations against him. This week, State Attorney General Menachem Mazuz spoke to the Knesset about Katzav’s removal.
Ashkenazi, who was an adviser to the National Security Council and in 2003 advised Uzi Landau, public security minister at that time, on a strategy to clean up the police, said he senses a shift taking place in Israeli society. “Now, step by step, public opinion says we want change and the concept of accountability is getting a stronger definition.”
The police commissioner reshuffle follows the Sunday release of the damning report of the Zeiler Committee, a state judicial commission formed in December 2005 and headed by former judge Vardi Zeiler to investigate allegations of police ties with reputed crime brothers Sharon and Oded Parinyan. The police-mob connections were first exposed by journalist Ilana Dayan, who reported that the police covered up the 1999 murder of criminal Pinchas Buchbut by a uniformed policeman, allegedly ordered by the Parinyan brothers. At the time of the killing, Buchbut was under police guard in the hospital.
Dayan received the story in January 2005 from Chief Superintendent Efraim Erlich, who was frustrated with the cover-up. He had learned that after the killer cop, Tzachi Ben-Or, was caught in a robbery in 2002, he admitted to the police that he had murdered Buchbut for the Parinyans. He also asked to serve as a state witness against the brothers and against the police officers, including Commander Yoram Levy, who collaborated with them in exchange for a short sentence. But no deal was struck, and he stayed in jail for a year before being released to house arrest. The court was never informed that he admitted to murder. And although the police knew it, the investigation file was closed.
After his release from jail, Ben-Or continued his criminal activities until the Parinyan brothers suspected him of killing one of their men, Yediot Aharonot reported. He was shot and seriously injured. While in the hospital, he tried again to cut a deal with the police, but the state attorney’s office refused his conditions. Fearing for his life, Ben-Or left the country — unobstructed by the police. In 2004 he was shot to death in Mexico, effectively killing the case against the Parinyan brothers. A recent attempt to find the file failed.
Dayan’s exposé in early 2005 caused a public uproar, but not an inquiry. It was only after numerous requests by former lawmaker Yossi Sarid and the Movement for Quality Government in Israel to the attorney general and the media that the Zeiler Committee was set up.
In an interview with Ha’aretz after submitting the report, Zeiler said he discovered “pure filth.” He warned that Israel could turn into a mafia-like regime. Zeiler did not oppose Ganot’s appointment, saying no one was perfect.
Some testimonies suggested links between the Parinyans and senior Likud party members — specifically former public security minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Omri Sharon. Former police commander Meir Gilboa told the committee that the former police commander of the northern region, Yaakov Borovsky (who had been passed over for the chief position when it was awarded to Karadi), told him “about the Parinyan brothers’ connections with senior Likud members, among them Omri Sharon and Tzachi Hanegbi. He told me that Levy provided the two politicians with protection, and, in return, they influenced Karadi to give Levy the appointment.” Karadi denied the allegation.
The Zeiler Committee ruled that when Karadi headed the Israel Police Southern District, he was aware of another case involving Levy and the Parinyans. Known as “the battery affair,” Levy and police Superintendent Ruby Gilboa are suspected of taking hundreds of thousands of shekels from an insurance investigator to transfer to Oded Parinyan in exchange for the return of thousands of military-issue batteries stolen from the Israeli military. Despite the allegations, Karadi appointed Levy as commander of the Southern District Central Unit.
This past August, lawmaker Gila Finkelstein of the National Religious Party called on the attorney general to investigate the connections between Likud politicians, the Parinyans and the appointments, but the Zeiler Committee only touched on the issue, choosing instead to focus on why Levy was appointed and not why Karadi was appointed even though he was not in line for the job.
Arye Naor, professor of public policy and administration at Ben-Gurion University and once former prime minister Menachem Begin’s chief of staff, said that the spate of inquiries and resignations shows the “strength” of Israel’s legal system. The threat, he added, comes from those trying to weaken it.
“It is an agenda of the new justice minister” Daniel Friedman, Naor said.
“Some [Knesset members] also talk of weakening the legal system, but it hasn’t happened in the meantime. Why do they talk? Because there are [Knesset members] who represent groups who have an interest in a weak legal system.”