Zeiler's black cloud

Mistrust of the upper echelons could undermine the foundations of a functioning civil society.

Zeiler 298.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Zeiler 298.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It is tempting at times, given recent revelations, to give in to the feeling that senior public officials who fulfill their responsibilities scrupulously and competently are a disappearing breed. In recent months MKs have been convicted of crimes relating to the performance of their jobs, while others are under investigation for alleged crimes or corruption. Earlier this month State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss submitted his semi-annual report alleging dozens of cases of mismanagement, inefficiency and improprieties in our public institutions. But the cloud of mistrust which has been gathering over the upper echelons of officialdom in the past weeks and months now threatens to burst in a deluge which could undermine the foundations of a functioning civil society, in the wake of Tuesday's Zeiler Committee revelations. The committee was set up at the end of last year to probe the alleged bungling of a murder investigation against crime kingpins Oded and Sharon Perinian who police suspect hired one-time policeman Tzahi Ben-Or to murder underworld figure Pinhas Buhbout in 1999. Ben-Or himself was murdered five years later. The severe nature of the committee's interim findings resulted in the distribution of warning letters to top officers of the Israel Police - including Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi and Jerusalem District chief Ilan Franco - and 11 other senior law enforcement officials, informing them that the committee's final report was likely to be damaging to them and allowing them to consult with legal advisers and clarify their positions before the commission issues its final findings. The preliminary report cites Karadi's poor judgment when dealing with the Buhbout and Ben-Or cases as Southern District commander, and in his appointment of Yoram Levy to head the Southern District's elite Central Investigative Unit. Levy and Ch.-Insp. Reuven Gilboa had "problematic" ties with the Perinians, the report alleges, while Police Investigative Department head Herzl Shviro is cited for not conducting a proper investigation into Levy's alleged connections with the Perinians. We understand and support the Justice Ministry's decision not to suspend any of those involved, as the committee has yet to publish its final report and the warnings do not create a "legal obligation" in this regard. And we applaud the speed with which the ministry made this decision, minimizing agonizing speculation. Yet it is profoundly disturbing when a significant number of those entrusted with the greatest responsibility for enforcing the laws which regulate and delineate societal norms are clearly suspected of incompetence and worse. In the short-term we are faced with a situation in which a cadre of senior law enforcement officials are not only alleged to be incapable of or disinclined to perform their duties in an acceptable fashion, but now they will ALSO be doing so while attempting to fend off accusations which could imperil their very careers. Under these circumstances we cannot emphasize enough the need for the Zeiler Committee to finish its work as quickly as possible and present its final conclusions. In the long-term, if the most alarming preliminary findings prove to be true, we will be faced with unprecedented questions about the internal workings of a police force that allowed a senior District commander to be promoted to head of the entire force after exercising poor judgment and making a dubious high-level appointment; and that allowed a senior officer with connections to organized crime to command the very unit responsible for investigating the criminals with whom he had connections. Such questions will surely shake the already fragile faith of citizens in those running "the system," and rightly, if alarmingly, so. There is one silver lining around this burgeoning cloud of mistrust and the menacing events which have fed it. Ironically, it is the fact that so many scandals involving public servants are being discovered and investigated. This is a hopeful sign that "the system" is not fatally flawed but, rather, is equipped with useful safeguards capable of rooting out the rot. The process is highly distressing but the alternative - allowing substandard execution of the obligations of public office to go unchecked, especially at the highest levels - could lead to anarchy which threatens the very functioning of society.