It takes no Sherlock Holmes to locate the symptoms of the Israel Police’s disease, and no Gregory House to diagnose this agency as gravely ill.
The scandal-ridden guardian of our streets, highways, borders, and social hygiene has been humbled by a continuum of probes, resignations and dismissals checkered with tales of sexual misconduct and associations with felons later punctuated by its top fraud investigator’s suicide.
Faced with this broken inheritance, and staring at a poll that stated the obvious – that 70 percent of Israelis distrust their police – Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan decided to take the bull by the horns and import a top cop from another planet; one who would bring the cops a gospel of renewal, unorthodoxy, sophistication and idealism; a military man who would reboot the ossified establishment, whose ailments have been experienced firsthand by thousands of households.
The appointment of Brig.-Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch
was announced Tuesday evening. By Wednesday, the choice had been damned by pundits, politicians and a phalanx of retired police brass, while a harsh institutional crisis was multiplied by professional insult and political intrigue.
The institutional situation is near catastrophic.
Of the 15 assistant-chiefs with whom outgoing Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino ran the Israel Police for most of his four-year term, seven ended up suspected of improprieties. Five are suspected of sexual misconduct, including Nissim Mor, Danino’s deputy until last January, when he was fired and arrested for allegedly harassing a policewoman who appealed to him for assistance. A married father of four, Mor later reportedly admitted having had intimate relationships with two more subordinates, claiming they had consented.
It was part of an institutional culture.
Mor’s dismissal was preceded by Judea and Samaria District commander Kobi Cohen’s resignation, in the wake of reports backed by a Facebook correspondence about a relationship with a subordinate.
Cohen’s departure was followed by Jerusalem District commander Yossi Pariente’s resignation for “personal reasons,” shortly after Jerusalem’s previous police commander, Nisso Shaham, was fired and indicted following multiple harassment complaints.
Though none of the sex-related scandals were about rape, the cops couldn’t dispel the widespread impression that work-relations norms elsewhere in the Israeli workplace had yet to reach the Israel Police. The conventional wisdom is that senior brass habitually abused undereducated subordinates who had few alternative work options.
The symptoms of decay exceeded sex. Shortly before Mor’s arrest, Central Region commander Bruno Stein resigned after media revelations of his attending a party hosted by Ronel Fisher, a lawyer now facing trial for allegedly trying to bribe policemen in turn for closing investigations against his clients.
Meanwhile, Menashe Arbiv, the head of Lahav 433, Israel’s version of the FBI, resigned in response to Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto’s allegations that he bribed Arbiv. Arbiv’s case is different from those of the other assistant-chiefs, as he seems fully innocent even after Pinto’s recent conviction. Still, his resignation contributed to the impression that the Israel Police is a mess.
Finally, Ephraim Bracha, the officer in charge of the National Fraud Squad, which is part of Lahav 433, last month shot himself in his car for reasons that remain unclear, as his cellphone vanished.
The gruesome scene near Bracha’s home in Modi’in encapsulated what many see as the Israel Police’s rot, an impression with which many citizens have long emerged after encounters with the police’s response to daily burglaries, car thefts and reckless driving.
A police call center’s mishandling last year of the call from Gil-Ad Shaer, one of the three boys abducted and slain by Hamas terrorists, and last month’s preventable murder of Shira Banki in Jerusalem’s Gay Parade convinced many that the Israel Police is plagued not only by misconduct at the top but also by dysfunction at the bottom, and as such is ill from head to toe.
Set against this backdrop, it was logical that Erdan would seek the new top cop outside the Israel Police. Choosing Hirsch, however, was less logical.
Gal Hirsch, one of the first babies born in Arad overlooking the Dead Sea, was galloping along a brilliant military career before improbable fiasco stopped him in his tracks.
Proceeding from the command of a paratroop battalion to the command of air-force commando unit Shaldag, Hirsch became a colonel at 35 and a brigadier-general at 41, when he assumed command of the central division facing Lebanon.
Hirsch had by then displayed a rare combination of battlefield bravery and original thought.
In Lebanon, he led troops in skirmishes with Hezbollah deep in its territory, and in the West Bank he planned Operation Defensive Shield in his capacity as regional operations officer.
Disdaining convention, he argued, as a West Bank colonel who had been seriously injured by a stone thrown at him, that the solution to last decade’s terrorism lay in the IDF’s arrival in the thick of the refugee camps and the narrowest urban alleys where the terrorists nested. His attitude was adopted and proved effective.
In a less dramatic setting, Hirsch questioned, as head of the IDF Officers’ School, its separation of the genders. Hirsch’s closure of the women’s separate school and his rearrangement of the men’s school into a fully coed framework saved costs and bolstered the IDF’s assignment of women with more tasks previously reserved for men.
Yet this record was of no help in summer 2006, when a patrol in Hirsch’s territory was ambushed at the Lebanese border fence. Hezbollah’s subsequent killing of two soldiers and snatching of their bodies, and the consequent Second Lebanon War, eventually resulted in Hirsch’s resignation amid criticism that he failed to properly prepare for the showdown.
Hirsch, who has an MBA from Tel Aviv University, went into business as an adviser to foreign militaries but was later rehabilitated by the IDF, when it called him back to service as deputy commander of the Depth Command, which plans long-range operations.
This, then, is the eventful CV Erdan picked from the pile on his desk before calling Hirsch and giving him an opportunity to make the most of his revolutionary mind and a once-in-a-life chance for public rehabilitation.
There could hardly have been a better way to offend police’s top brass, both the incumbent and the retired.
“YOU CAN’T beautify this,” said former inspector-general Assaf Hefetz. “The guy is unfit for the inspector-generalship.”
Joined by four other former inspectors-general and 30 assistant- chiefs, the cops’ protestation focused on Hirsch’s lack of police background and controversial military record. All were careful to avoid dwelling on Hirsch’s arguably junior military rank of brigadier- general, lest that would insinuate acceptance of a major-general’s appointment.
The cops’ move backfired.
“Where were you all when a line of officers were accused of sexual harassment and forced to resign?” asked Israel Radio’s Keren Neubach, before alleging that the officers were driven not by the police’s condition but by the urge “to protect the guild from an outsider’s appointment.”
Other pundits concurred. Still, the appointment itself drew fire, most notably because of Hirsch’s lack of seniority, and for his lack of experience managing anything nearly as big a 30,000-employee workforce and a NIS 9.5 billion budget.
Erdan was apparently aware of this flaw, and therefore initially approached more experienced alternatives, but in what raises questions about Israeli politicians’ public authority, three major-generals reportedly turned down Erdan’s offer to command the Israel Police: Military Attaché to Washington Yaakov Ayash; former head of Central Command Avi Mizrahi; and former head of IDF Operations Division Yisrael Ziv.
A fourth major-general, Electric Corporation CEO Yiftah Ron-Tal, was reportedly favored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but rejected by Erdan, apparently because he found him too close to the prime minister. It follows that Hirsch’s appointment was reached at least partly by default, having answered the minister’s quest for revolution but failed to exude the kind of authority the appointment requires.
Indeed, whether or not this has been premeditated by Erdan, Hirsch will have to shed much of what is left of the Israel Police’s top brass, and possibly also the level below it, because they will not respect him and he will not trust them. The result will be organizational turbulence whose costs might prove higher than its benefits.
Then again, Hirsch might end up proving that motivation can compensate for experience, both his and his lieutenants’.
Erdan, a 44-year-old lawyer, has been an eloquent, handsome and meteorically rising star within the Likud, often mentioned as a potential party leader. However, during six ministerial years, he never faced a challenge nearly as daunting as reinventing the Israel Police, nor a task as delicate as appointing its commander. His move’s impact on his career will be decisive.
Erdan’s controversial choice now faces the Turkel Commission, which scrutinizes candidates’ eligibility for senior positions in the civil service. Chances of Hirsch failing this test are low.
The real test – for Hirsch, for his superiors and for his 30,000 subordinates – will begin the following day.