Dichter, take charge or hand over

Can force plagued by a leadership vacuum afford to lose a commander of Bar-Lev's caliber?

dichter 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
dichter 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Lurid details are now emerging about the murder of four-year-old Rose Ron - allegedly by her grandfather, with the complicity of her mother (the two were married). Police suspect Rose's body was placed in a suitcase and dumped in the Yarkon River. Since the story of her disappearance first broke on Sunday and her haunting portrait seared itself into the public consciousness, we all feared something evil had happened to her. Now we know it did. Meanwhile, two alleged organized crime figures, brothers Itzik and Meir Abergil, are facing extradition to the United States over their reputed involvement in the 2003 murder of an Israeli drug dealer in Los Angeles. Their syndicate is also reportedly implicated in the botched mob hit on a Bat Yam beach last month that saw an innocent bystander, Marguerita Lautin, shot dead in front of her children and husband. Chaim Nachman Bialik, the legendary Hebrew poet, was said to have coined the Zionist credo: "When the first Jewish prostitute is arrested by the first Jewish policeman and sentenced by the first Jewish judge, we can consider ourselves a sovereign state." Israel has achieved this, and more. Protecting law-abiding citizens from evil and the criminal falls mostly to the guardians of civilized society, the police. Yet as the Post has been reporting since Monday, the police itself is under criticism: Key field assignments, set to take effect next year, have apparently been made on the basis of cronyism. Even the appearance of favoritism, let alone the reality, shakes the already wobbly faith of Israelis in their political and legal systems. WHEN ISRAEL'S top cop, Insp.-Gen. David Cohen, decided to transfer his number two, Deputy Insp.-Gen. Shahar Ayalon, to the post of Tel Aviv police chief and replace him with the current head of the Tel Aviv district, Cmdr. Ilan Franco, he created at least the appearance of impropriety, casting himself and Avi Dichter the minister for internal security, in a dismal light. Franco would be positioned to replace Cohen as Israel's top cop, even though a 2007 panel headed by former District Court Judge Vardi Zeiler specifically recommended against giving Franco the country's top police post. The Zeiler Committee was set up to examine the police command's questionable handling of suspicions that a rogue cop had maintained ties with underworld figures Oded and Sharon Perinian. Besides his plan to promote Franco, Cohen also embarked on a series of appointments intended to help old friends (Dep.-Cmdr. Jackie Bray and Cmdr. Shai Amihai, for instance) and hinder those who aren't - specifically, Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev, a reform-minded manager credited with a huge drop in crime in the southern district. Rather than advance him through the ranks, Cohen allowed personal animosities to rule and ordered Bar-Lev to take paid educational leave. Bar-Lev, a decorated veteran of an elite IDF unit, already holds two undergraduate degrees and refused to waste public funds on unnecessary study or be put out to pasture. Cohen then released a bogus statement announcing that Bar-Lev had decided to quit, to which Bar-Lev responded: "I have no plans to resign for the next 10 years." Bar-Lev is precisely the kind of policeman a good boss should be nurturing, and a chorus of universal outrage has rightly erupted over Cohen's abysmal treatment of him, and Dichter's failure to date to decisively rectify it. CAN A force plagued by a lack of professionalism and a leadership vacuum afford to lose a commander of Bar-Lev's caliber? And for what? To make room for more of the commissioner's good ole' boys? Israelis cannot help but wonder how we got saddled with the apparently mendacious Cohen and, in Dichter, a minister who seems more concerned with respecting "the organizational culture" of the police than its effectiveness. This episode is not only about an honest, dedicated and charismatic cop being unwarrantedly shunted aside, but, most fundamentally, about a law enforcement organization begging for upstanding leadership, adequate resources and competent ministerial oversight - and, so far anyway, getting none of these. The buck stops with Dichter, a former Shin Bet head and now a candidate for Kadima's leadership. The minister of internal security, who appointed Cohen to the commissioner's job, is failing the public, and should get a grip or hand over to someone who can.