Most of us, when we retire – assuming we get to eventually – will probably get a cake and some awkward toasts in the break room on our last day. The parking spot will be gone by morning, and office life will continue in our absence.
Alas, most of us are not the commissioner of the Israel Police. If we were, we could expect a lavish ceremony at taxpayer expense that would put most tacky, over-the-top Israeli weddings to shame.
That’s one of the takeaways from the going-away party for Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino, which took place in Beit Shemesh on July 1 and cost NIS 410,000 in taxpayer money – including NIS 37,000 for a short set by singer Keren Peles. The press was banned from covering the event, so we can only speculate about the lavishness inside, and cannot confirm whether he entered the auditorium in a gilded chariot. We do know, however, that 200 copies of a children’s book featuring Danino (on every page) were handed out to guests. Titled My Father the Commissioner, the book closed with the line “Not only is he my father, but he’s the father of all of the police.”
Daninopalooza also came after a drawn-out send-off in the months before, during which he personally visited every single police station in the country for official goodbye ceremonies that cost taxpayer money and disrupted police work at the stations.
Every party has a morning after, though. Last Thursday, the State Comptroller’s Office contacted acting police commissioner Asst.-Ch. Bentzi Sau to notify him that the comptroller was launching a probe into Danino’s going- away ceremonies, due to complaints the office had received and reports in the media.
Danino didn’t take long to respond.
In a message on Thursday from the National Police Spokesman’s Office (which said that it was still doing PR for Danino, since he was on a “retirement vacation” at the moment and not fully retired), he said, “I’m very pleased by the [comptroller’s] decision, which will prove that the events were proper and modest, despite all of the tendentious reports that came after them.”
In his defense, modesty is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s NIS 410,000 goodbye party is another guy’s cold burekas in the break room.
Nonetheless, the display by the police chief as he left office should at the very least interest the public, and not seem – as it has over the past month – like an obsession of crime reporters who have had a combative relationship with the commissioner throughout his term.
NIS 410,000 is a lot of taxpayer money, especially considering the rising cost of living in the country and the growing difficulty that average Israelis – including thousands of officers in the police force – have making ends meet. Still, the expenditure could be easier to swallow if the man in question had been a public leader of great renown and success. It would still be over the top and embarrassing, and still probably worthy of a comptroller probe, but it would be more palatable.
By many calculations, the four years Danino was head of the police were disastrous.
A series of top commanders – all with the second-highest rank in the force – resigned or were fired for sexual misconduct, including sexual assault, and each story seemed to get more coverage than the one before it. In late 2013 and early 2014, a mob war raged on the streets, and police seemed – at least to much of the public – unable to stop it.
In the past few months, protests by Ethiopian- Israelis have shone a light on allegations of police brutality and racism, and have degenerated into scenes of rioting in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Finally, earlier this month, the police force’s top investigator, Dep.-Ch. Efraim Bracha, took his own life, a tragedy that has traumatized many in the organization.
Obviously Danino is not personally to blame for all of these problems, but as the head of the organization, he is the one who should be expected to take responsibility.
Though it’s true that Israeli public officials, for the most part, do not resign unless they are forced to, one would have hoped to see the head of an organization embroiled in so much controversy at least to go quietly into the night when his term was up, not to throw a triumphant going-away celebration befitting a national savior.
The event also shows a troubling lack of modesty that should be unbecoming of a public servant. Reports from the event reminded me of one I attended in February 2013, at the Tel Aviv police headquarters, to honor the district’s officers.
While the focus was meant to be the district, it quickly morphed into a love fest for Danino, with a child performer on stage asking another child, “Who’s the most handsome cop? The commissioner!” Another child asked and answered, “Who’s the bravest, most heroic cop? The commissioner!” On a large projection screen, footage of Danino was shown repeatedly, though the then-commander of the Tel Aviv District seemed noticeably absent.
One crime reporter remarked that “this event looks like something out of North Korea!” – at which the rest of the press contingent laughed, having just walked out of the event after Danino took the stage to protest his office’s combative relationship with the press (surprisingly, the move didn’t help).
The reporter’s description is clearly a stretch; after all, in North Korea, no free press would have been present, and such openly made wisecracks could have bought the jokester a trip to a labor camp. Still, there was a feeling that, for some reason, the head of the Israel Police – an organization that is perennially the butt of jokes and derision from the public – had developed a cult of personality while in office.
A betting man would be well-advised to put some money on Danino entering politics after his retirement “cooling- off” period. He’s got the blue eyes, the good looks, enough friends in high places, and it should be an easy transition to make, no matter what the state comptroller’s probe finds.
If that happens, when the time comes for him to retire, one should hope he doesn’t try to outdo his first great send-off. The writer covers crime, African migrant and security issues for The Jerusalem Post. He also writes and hosts “Reasonable Doubt,” an English-language crime news podcast on TLV1.FM. His blog can be found at www.benjaminhartman.com.