Spare us further Gavizons

If even some of the rumors are true, the incidents point to the need for major soul searching among those in our police and security forces who should know better.

prison watch tower 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
prison watch tower 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Anonymous allegations have been floating around for a few weeks now that Eli Gavizon had intimate relations with five women from the Prisons Service, one of whom was under his command at the time, and that he arranged unauthorized benefits for at least one of the women. But neither the Public Security Ministry’s comptroller nor Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch saw a reason to nix Gavizon’s appointment as the next head of the Prisons Service. These were anonymous letters that could well have been a ploy by Gavizon’s enemies to torpedo his appointment. Gavizon claimed as much, acknowledging that he had engaged in sexual relations with a woman 15 years ago and stating that the sex had been consensual.
But the Turkel Committee, headed by former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel, which scrutinizes senior public appointments, was concerned. Just a few months ago, the committee saw its approval of Yoav Galant as chief of the General Staff overturned. Learning from that experience, the committee asked Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to look into the Gavizon affair.
Gavizon, married and a father of four, failed a lie detector test, which led Weinstein to conclude that he could not recommend the appointment. It was the potential conflict of interests caused by Gavizon’s purported extramarital affairs with women in the Prisons Service system that resulted in his disqualification, not that Gavizon, a man whose business is law and order, had been disloyal to his wife – a fact that was barely mentioned.
In the wake of the last-minute disqualification, which Gavizon will now attempt to appeal in the High Court, Aharonovitch decided to appoint Jerusalem Police Cmdr. Aharon Franco, passing over three additional candidates who had been shortlisted with Gavizon. In so doing, Aharonovitch broke his promise to end the custom of choosing someone outside the Prisons Service ranks as head.
Part of the reason that Aharonovitch is choosing Franco is the time constraints. After wasting precious time on Gavizon, there is a need to hurry to replace the present Prisons Service head, Lt.-Cmdr. Benny Kaniak, whose term is over at the end of April.
Nevertheless, Aharonovitch has been criticized. Yossi Pollack, a former high-ranking Prisons Service officer, warned during an interview on Army Radio Monday that choosing someone like Franco, who comes from outside the system, would be detrimental to the Prisons Service. Pollack himself was disqualified from such an appointment after he admitted in 2001, as part of a plea bargain, to charges that he had provided businessman Ofer Nimrodi with special incarceration conditions at Ma’asiyahu Prison.
THE GAVIZON incident could easily have been avoided if care had been taken in the early stages to properly vet potential appointees before a rash announcement was made a month ago. Similarly, Galant’s appointment as chief of staff might never have been made if more care had been taken in investigating various allegations against him in the preliminary stages of the process. It had been known, for instance, that Galant had de facto annexed 28 dunams of public land to his own holding in Moshav Amikam, and that he possibly benefited from favoritism when allocated 35 additional dunams by the Israel Lands Authority. Rumors had also been circulating about Galant’s alleged strongarm tactics in his own community.
Another embarrassing disqualification was that of Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev, a candidate for police chief, who was accused by two different women of sexual harassment.
One of the two was Dr. Orly Innes, a social worker who headed the Public Security Ministry’s “City without Violence” initiative. Unlike Galant and Gavizon, however, Bar-Lev’s candidacy was quashed before he was appointed.
These three incidents – concerning Gavizon, Galant and Bar-Lev – all occurring within the span of a few months, do send out a positive message: Our society sets high standards for its security personnel, and will not tolerate even the rumor of misconduct – not to mention rape – tainting law enforcers and military personnel.
On the other hand, if even some of the rumors are true, the incidents point to the need for major soul searching among those in our police and security forces who should know better. They also highlight the imperative for a more rigorous, early vetting process, to ensure there are no more embarrassing, high-profile incidents of last-minute appointment-nixing. Ultimately, these cases undermine trust and foster cynicism. There are ways to avoid them.