Jews like to think that we're smarter than other people. And those of Israel see themselves as shrewder than cousins who have lived for generations in western countries.
However, we don't always get it right, all at once, or at our first try.
We're currently wondering about our new chief of police, whose coming to office was anything but neat, and whose first test under fire has produced reams of questions and criticism.
The Minister of Public Security is responsible for selecting the chief of police, whose appointment must be vetted by a committee concerned with professional and moral fitness, and then formally approved by the government.
The Minister's first effort to find a replacement for the chief whose term was about to end was a flop. The Minister didn't check with the cops before he announced his choice, and then stuttered and humphed for several days when he learned that man he nominated had been under investigation by one of the police units for some time, having to do with improper activities of a company he was heading.
Even before the problems of the nominee became evident, the Minister was the target of a campaign organized by senior police personnel who saw themselves as natural candidates for the top job. The Minister made himself a target by saying that he would go outside the police to select the new chief. The cops should have been aware of the concern expressed by the Minister, and just about everyone else in the country who had been hearing about senior officers' tendencies to put their hands on much younger lady cops serving in their commands. Chief among the new chief's jobs would be to clean the house that had acquired a dirty reputation.
The second nominee got high praise from just about everyone except those senior police officers. The new man came from outside, and had a fine record as deputy head of the Shin Bet (שירות הביטחון הכללי). That's the organization we do not know much about, but does the work of screening telephone calls and e-mails, protecting us with other electronic snooping, recruiting and managing human operatives among hostile populations, perhaps by means that we do not want to know.
Now the man, Roni Alsheikh, a religious Jew of Yemenite background, and the father of seven, is being criticized for clumsiness in his first big case. Among the problems of us commoners, is separating the self-interest of the media that is headlining his problems, from the reality of what really is happening.
The media story is that Alsheikh sought to run the police like the Shin Bet. In doing so, he is said to have altered the practices of an organization meant to serve the public, in part by staying in close touch with the public, into an organization that keeps everything to itself. The Shin Bet is one of the Israeli organizations where people working for it do not tell people who they work for. If you ask an Israeli who he or she works for, and he or she doesn't go beyond saying "the government," or "the Prime Minister's Office," you can bet that it's either the Shin Bet or Mossad.
Among the problems in the media campaign that the new chief is making the police operate like the Shin Bet is the short time he had to make the change. Those who know organizations suspect that you can't change much in one month at the head of an organization with some 35,000 personnel.
Alsheikh's main task was to clean the sexual predators from the senior ranks of police, and to teach officers on their way up how not to behave. What has been on the top of his pile, however, is the spectacular attack on a Tel Aviv bar and the search for the perpetrator still underway.
The attack occurred on a Friday afternoon, which meant that the onset of Sabbath provided a day of relative quiet from critics. By Saturday night, however, we were hearing that the cops had screwed up, and that it was at least partly the fault of the new chief.
We were seeing pictures of the perpetrator, and hearing stories about his father who volunteers for police duty and who told the cops that the pictures were those of his son. However, the pictures came not from the police but from somewhere in the media. We heard that the police weren't talking or sharing information, on account of a severe blackout imposed by their new boss. At the same time, the police asked the public to be alert, and report any sign of a suspicious person.
Something wasn't making sense.
Media personnel did what they thought right, or at least in their self interest, and covered the airwaves with reports and speculation about the event and the man or people responsible. School attendance the next day in upscale areas of Tel Aviv was close to zero. That was either because parents figured from the heavy police presence that the murderer was close by, or because they could afford for either dad or mother to stay home from work and look after the kids.
The story remains in the headlines, with no scarcity of detail about what is happening, but some doubt as to what is coming from the police and what is coming from media personalities. When the new chief announced that the people of Tel Aviv could relax and continue with their normal lives, we could hear the raised eyebrows of the announcers who read his statement.
In contrast to an early story about the father of the perpetrator being a good citizen who did not teach his sons to do wrong, later news was that Dad, two brothers of the alleged murderer, an uncle, and some other relatives and people living nearby had been detained on suspicion of being accomplices to murder and interfering with a police investigation.
In regard to a police screw-up that preceded the new chief, the media are asking how is that the family of a man who served in prison for attacking a soldier and stealing his weapon had been allowed to have several unregistered weapons in their home.
Those seeking to calm the frenzy note that not all perpetrators are seized within minutes, hours, or even days and weeks.
Alsheikh has his defenders. However, some of Israel's shrewd Jews wonder if his defenders are media people who want to assure themselves access to whatever the police are inclined to release.
Keep tuned. Current guesses are that the killer has slipped into the West Bank, and maybe to some other country. We're likely to get him, sooner or later, dead or alive. And we may see how long is the reach of Alsheikh's former colleagues in the Shin Bet.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem