Activists call for police commander’s removal after sexual assault accusations

“This protest is against Alsheich and the entire police policy that covers the silent sexual abuse in the police.”

September 29, 2016 17:35
2 minute read.

AN ISRAELI police officer mans the new National Police Public Information Call Center in Holon on Monday. (photo credit: POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

A group of activists are leading protests to remove the commander of the Lahav 433 police anti-corruption unit, Asst.-Ch.

Roni Ritman. This follows a petition that was heard on Thursday in the High Court of Justice seeking to indict Ritman.

Ritman was investigated for sexual harassment last year, but in December 2015, then-attorney- general Yehuda Weinstein decided not to file an indictment due to “evidentiary issues.” Israel Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich reinstated Ritman, after a temporary suspension, without any demotion or significant reprimand.

“This protest is against Alsheich and the entire police policy that covers the silent sexual abuse in the police,” social activist Shira Azni Melech said on Wednesday. “The situation is that woman cannot feel safe with the police, the whole atmosphere is anti-woman.”

The allegations against Ritman were made by a single female subordinate, who claimed that on three occasions he sexually harassed her, including during a social function in which he allegedly kissed her against her will. Ritman was never charged with criminal wrongdoing.

On Thursday, Hai Bar-El, the lawyer representing the police officer alleging sexual assault by Ritman, said that the state’s position, which is based on the statue of limitations in such cases, is “lightweight” (the sexual harassment allegedly took place in 2011). “Weinstein’s position was wrong, but Alsheich is just absurd for having Ritman as the No. 1 investigator in the country,” he said.

“This officer finds herself standing alone without any support. We are here to support her,” stated Azni Melech.

Along with the protest, a letter was sent to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Sunday signed by Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List), MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union), and a host of other academics, journalists and social activists.

“We urge you send the police commissioner an unambiguous and uncompromising message about the need to rid the Israel Police of sex crimes and restore public confidence in it, and to ensure that the police force will act lawfully, as expected,” the letter said.

Erdan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Azni Melech, along with other activists, is also seeking to raise NIS 400,000 through crowdfunding to combat sexual assault in the police force.

Activists at a protest at Tel Aviv’s Habimah Square on Wednesday night carried signs reading, “Stop the culture of rape. Clean up the police,” and, “Campaigning in the streets to eliminate harassment.”

Alsheich drew further controversy and condemnation from activists when he said in March that the police would not investigate anonymous allegations of sexual harassment and assault, claiming that they were “part of a culture for settling accounts.”

The Justice Ministry said at the time that all complaints would be investigated, regardless of whether they are anonymous or not.

At the protest on Wednesday, activists contended that the Ritman case is merely one example of a larger problem.

“Put an end to the shame and injustice, [and] stop the intolerable behavior of the police who receive a boost from the police commissioner,” a statement from the activists said.

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