(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Amid the political drama regarding the fate of the governing coalition, a spectacle no less crucial to the future of the Jewish state has gone largely overlooked.
In a series of public statements over the course of four consecutive days, Police Chief Yohanan Danino brazenly overstepped his position and authority, launching unprecedented verbal attacks on the attorney general, the Israeli Right and members of the Knesset.
Under heavy criticism in recent weeks for his failure to curb Palestinian violence on the Temple Mount and in eastern Jerusalem, Danino did what any bungling bureaucrat would do: he tried to pin the blame on everyone else but himself.
Speaking at a conference in Sderot, Israel’s top cop denounced visits to the Mount by right-wing parliamentarians, suggesting that they had prompted Palestinian rioting. Furthermore, he asserted that anyone seeking to change Israeli policy at Judaism’s holiest site should not be allowed to set foot there.
“Anyone who wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount – it should be forbidden for him to go up there,” Danino said, adding that, “I banned [Likud MK Moshe] Feiglin from ascending the Mount until I had no backing from the attorney general. This is a mistake, to allow someone who is a symbol of the movement to change the status quo [to ascend the Mount].”
In effect, our esteemed chief of police has just declared that those who support government policy on the Temple Mount may visit the site, while opponents should be barred from doing so. In other words, the exercise of one’s fundamental rights and freedoms, at least in Danino’s mind, should be directly linked to one’s political views, and woe unto him who wishes to alter government policy.
This is an absolute outrage and it demonstrates that Danino doesn’t understand the first thing about how a democracy functions. A person’s inalienable rights, such as freedom of speech and worship, do not belong to Danino, the police or even the state. They are natural, God-given rights, and the state’s role is to protect and uphold them. A Knesset member or ordinary citizen has the right to visit the Temple Mount regardless of his personal views vis-à-vis government policy. This is so obvious and self-evident that it should not need to be pointed out, particularly to the man who serves as Israel’s chief law enforcement officer.
Not surprisingly, Danino’s outrageous comments led MK Yuli Edelstein, the speaker of the Knesset, to send a letter to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch in which he rightly noted that “these statements are grave and inappropriate coming from a police commissioner about elected public officials. It is unacceptable that a public servant – as senior as the position may be – would question the freedom of movement of Knesset members.”
And yet that is exactly what Danino did – and he didn’t stop there.
On Friday, in response to Edelstein’s letter, Danino told a public forum in Ashkelon that, “Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein does not understand at all what the role of the commissioner is.” Furthermore, he declared, “Not only do I not retract the things I said, but I add the announcement that I will not allow these Knesset members to visit the Temple Mount.”
If you aren’t incensed and scandalized by Danino’s behavior, then you aren’t paying attention.
His task as police commissioner is to carry out government policy and maintain public order. How dare he wade into policy questions and publicly bully elected officials.
In response, the Movement for Democracy and Governance demanded that Danino apologize or be relieved of duty. Its chairman, Yehuda Amrani, stated that while the police chief is free to offer his opinions to decision-makers in closed forums, it is completely unacceptable for him to publicly challenge the legally formulated policies that he is sworn to carry out.
Nonetheless, Danino continues to restrict the rights of Jews to visit and pray freely at the Temple Mount, treating the site as if it were his own personal fiefdom rather than the patrimony of the entire nation. He stresses the need to keep the peace at the Mount, but seeks to do so by caving in to Palestinian intimidation and threats.
Here too he is in error. Rather than preventing Jews from exercising their basic rights, Danino should be redoubling his efforts against those Palestinians who seek to infringe upon those very same rights.
As Thomas Jefferson once said, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.”
But it would appear that our police chief simply misunderstands his role and is in over his head. So let’s spell it out for him as simply as possible: as a public servant, Mr. Danino, you are supposed to be serving the public, not the other way around.