Israel Police should fight crime, terror with the zeal used for Hefetz - opinion

Get some grit, muster up some muscle, put aside what I suspect is political bias and focus intensively on combating much more concrete threats to Israel than the peccadilloes of the PMO.

 NIR HEFETZ arrives at the Jerusalem District Court this week. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
NIR HEFETZ arrives at the Jerusalem District Court this week.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

During the ongoing bribery and corruption trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it has become clear that the prosecution’s star witness was near brow-beaten to death by the Israel Police. Nir Hefetz, an aide to the former prime minister, was pressured to testify against his boss by super-zealous investigators and prosecutors who used every muscular trick in their books to break Hefetz down.

I do not know whether this was justified or legal, nor whether this taints Hefetz’s testimony regarding Netanyahu. The Netanyahu trial is not my current focus. My interest here is only in police tactics and tenacity from a comparative perspective.

Hefetz was coerced by police into being a state witness by threats to expose a romance with a woman who was not his wife, by placing him in a jail cell with crazed and murderous Arab criminals who were told that Hefetz worked for Netanyahu, by denying him needed medical attention as well as decent food and sleep, and by numerous other threats.

“Police psychological and physical threats to me reached monstrous proportions,” Hefetz testified, which is backed up by videos of his interrogations that were broadcast in court.

One interrogator warned Hefetz that “We’re going to bomb you in the coming days like you can’t imagine. We will undermine the foundations of your world and destroy your life. You have no idea how powerful we are. We’re not just the police. We are Lahav 433 [i.e., Israel’s version of the FBI]. We have powers and methods of operation like the General Security Services [i.e., the Shin Bet, which spies on and interrogates Palestinian terrorists].

THE ISRAEL POLICE conducts its high-level investigations through Lahav 433, the country’s ‘FBI,’ headquartered in this building in Lod. (credit: WIKIPEDIA)THE ISRAEL POLICE conducts its high-level investigations through Lahav 433, the country’s ‘FBI,’ headquartered in this building in Lod. (credit: WIKIPEDIA)

“We have and will overturn every corner of your life. Every hidden and secret part of your life will be put on the table. There is a high likelihood that after we’re done with you, your kids will spurn you, and your wife too. They will not want to have anything to do with you. If you refuse to cooperate with our investigation, your family unit will be blown apart by what we have to expose.”

There is much more, but you get the picture. Police invested thousands of hours in investigating, intimidating, criminalizing and bullying Hefetz. When the police want a result, they know how to get it.

HOW I WISH that the Israel Police would devote the same robust resolve, steadfastness, craftiness and even brutality to fighting crime and Arab terror across this country.

If the police went after those who stone Israeli buses, firebomb Israeli cars, stab young mothers walking their kids to school in Jerusalem, block roads with burning tires in the Galilee and Negev, rampage through mixed Muslim-Jewish cities, vandalize public infrastructures, pinch electrical power and water from public grids and steal weaponry from Israel Defense Forces bases – with anything resembling the toughness and prosecutorial zeal applied to Hefetz, the country would be a lot, lot safer.

Netanyahu might slither off the hook, but Israel would survive as a better, securer, sounder society. Alas, Israel has mafias that are eating away at national sovereignty and good government. This includes economic cartels and criminal rackets that wrench Israel from its moorings as a just and free country.

For years, Israeli Arab community leaders have begged the Israel Police to aggressively crush these criminal cartels (whose gun-supply grids fuel widespread domestic violence among Israeli Arabs), but the Israel Police has been afraid of confronting these gangs.

Or perhaps the police force is just distracted by “more important” investigations like those into Hefetz’s sexual affairs and Netanyahu’s champagne consumption habits and media manipulation techniques.

Just consider the ongoing series of criminal arsons in the Galilee over recent months. Read the shocking report published in August by the state comptroller on anarchy in the Negev including the never-ending theft of arms and equipment from IDF bases in the south.

These are chronic illnesses that have festered for years, which undermine Israeli authority and make life hell for Jewish, Muslim and Christian Israelis. Yet there is no national plan for dealing with such lawless mayhem. As mentioned, police officers are busy beating up on Hefetz and others like him.

Even when there is a comprehensive and munificently funded Israeli national plan for dealing with such problems – such as the multiple Israeli plans to settle Bedouin land claims in the Negev and halt the helter-skelter Bedouin sprawl over massive tracts of land in the south – these plans are scuttled by Arab criminal gangs and the radical Islamist organizations to which they often are connected.

Alas, no Israeli minister of public security or police chief has had the guts to wage all-out war against the protection gangs and Islamist criminal-terrorist networks. Government and police officials prefer to continue to try and “manage” the situation; to keep a lid on things without root-canal treatment. And focus on easier-to-bully white-collar criminals like Hefetz.

Another example of police malfeasance is its capitulation to gangland Arab behavior on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The police always prefer to “maintain public order” on the mount instead of acting determinedly against Arab assaults on Israel and on Jewish history. This has led Israel to ignore decades of outrageous and provocative Muslim moves on the mount; assaults that are escalating all the time.

Wakf and Islamic Movement provocateurs have attacked Jewish visitors to the mount and Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall below the mount. The Wakf also has conducted vast and illegal construction projects on the mount and beneath it, willfully destroying centuries of Jewish archaeological treasures. ISIS, Hamas and Turkish flags are allowed to fly defiantly on the Temple Mount. The Wakf even has allowed Palestinian terrorists to smuggle guns onto the mount, who have attacked police guarding the gates of the mount and then fled into the shrines on the mount under Wakf protection.

In short, radical Palestinian and Islamic actors have turned the mount into a base of hostile operations against Israel, while the Israel Police uses kid gloves, if at all, against such violence.

Unsurprisingly, Israel’s restraint in all things related to the Temple Mount has not improved the situation. Just the opposite is true. In the face of Israeli hesitancy and timidity, Israel’s enemies have ratcheted up their attacks and their propaganda assaults. Even the most cautious police actions on the mount are now immediately termed “flagrant desecration of the holy al-Aqsa Mosque,” with the “holy mosque” now said to encompass the entire Temple Mount Plaza and “all its walls.”

Obviously, there are other reasons (societal, political and diplomatic) for police caution when handling lawlessness among Israel’s minority communities, or Arab violence on the Temple Mount. My comparison to police behavior in handling Netanyahu and Hefetz (and Arye Deri and others) is not picture-perfect. And prosecuting criminals on all fronts is certainly necessary.

But my demand of the Israel Police and attorney-general’s office remains on target: Get some grit, muster up some muscle, put aside what I suspect is political bias and focus intensively on combating much more concrete threats to Israeli sovereignty and society than the peccadilloes of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The author’s diplomatic, defense, political, and Jewish world columns over the past 25 years are archived at davidmweinberg.com.