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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Police are not above the law, the head of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women said Monday, the day after it emerged that Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said police will no longer investigate anonymous sexual harassment complaints issued against commanders.
“The commissioner doesn’t have the authority to make this sort of decision,” said committee chief MK Aida Touma Sliman (Joint List) on Monday. “The law against sexual harassment is very clear in its obligations and requires the investigation of all anonymous complaints in any institution... the Israel Police are not above the law.”
While complaints are often filed by police officers within the organization and then handed over to the Justice Ministry, it is the ministry’s Police Investigative Department which looks into allegations of illegal conduct by police officers, not the Israel Police itself.
The PID issued a statement Monday that “the PID has the authority to investigate all complaints that indicate suspicion of a crime committed by a police officer. Every complaint we receive will be examined, just as has been done up until today.”
Orit Sulitzeanu, executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, said Monday that Alsheich was making a severe mistake.
She noted that in many cases, complainants must remain anonymous to prevent clashing with their colleagues and commanders.
“False reports of sexual harassment are almost non-existent, a very small minority,” she said, adding that the police and the Justice Ministry know how to determine if they encounter such cases.
Galia Wolloch, head of the Israeli women’s organization Na’amat, said Monday she was shocked to hear Alsheich’s statements, adding that they contradict the law against sexual harassment and again raise questions about the ability of police to deal with internal problems.
Alsheich’s comments were first reported by Channel 2 on Sunday night, and reportedly came during an internal conference held by police to mark International Women’s Day.
According to Channel 2, Alsheich said “anonymous complaints have become part of a culture of ‘settling accounts’ in the police force, and therefore from now on we won’t handle anonymous complaints dealing with allegations of crimes by police.” He also said that anonymous complaints are not necessary since officers are required to report acts of wrongdoing regardless, Channel 2 reported.
Meretz MK Michal Rozin said Sunday that Alsheich’s decision “protects the abusers and silences the complainants” and sent an urgent request for clarification to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on the matter.
Alsheich’s comments were also rebutted by former state prosecutor and past head of the PID, Eran Shendar, who in an interview with Army Radio on Monday said: “I dealt a lot with these sorts of cases and I don’t remember any complaints that were ‘something out of nothing.’ There were things that were exaggerated, or that were interpreted in one way or another, but there weren’t any fabrications.”
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Alsheich “is trying to deal with on the one hand his desire to encourage as many complainants as possible to come forward, and on the other hand to contain the culture of settling accounts that exists in the police.” She suggested providing maximum immunity to any female complainant throughout the investigation of the complaint.
Alsheich’s comments come following a series of highly publicized sexual abuse scandals that have led to a string of top police commanders being fired or forced to resign in recent years. Alsheich was appointed in part to repair the police’s damaged public image and purge its culture of sexual harassment.