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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A breach of trust

When 40% of a country's citizens respond in the negative to the simple polling question:  "Do you trust the national police?", you have a problem on your hands!

One can argue that 'trust' is an extremely broad and subjective term and means different things to different people.  To some, 'trust' is synonymous with 'honesty'.  To others it is more closely related to 'reliability' (think of those team-building exercises where you have to fall backwards with your eyes closed while a coworker standing behind you [hopefully] catches you).  Still others associate the word 'trust' with a sacred obligation or even faith.

However, when you ask a statistically significant sample of Israelis if they trust the police and 40% say 'no!'... you can't entirely argue away the results on the basis of semantics. 

You see, regardless of which definition of 'trust' you subscribe to, in order to do their job effectively, the police MUST be trusted by the public they serve and protect.  Without that trust, the police can only impose their will on the public through brute force in something disturbingly similar to marshal law; a veritable police state. 

Even more importantly, since the police's power flows from the government... if citizens don't trust the police, they are essentially saying they don't trust the government.

In an era when nearly every corner of the Israeli plutocracy we call the Knesset is riddled with scandal and corruption, one would at least hope that the 'everyman' of society - the cops - would remain a force for good and above suspicion.  But the recent report issued by the Zeiler Commission delivered a scathing picture of an organization rotting from the top down.

At first it appeared that the inevitable shake-up (what some media outlets dramatically referred to as 'an earthquake') in the senior echelons of the Israeli Police might actually give that force an opportunity to restore some of the lost public trust.  However within hours of the most senior heads rolling, a startling disappointment was handed to anyone who had hoped for something... anything... other than 'business as usual.  I'm referring, of course, to the naming of Yaakov Ganot to replace the disgraced Chief Karadi.

What the country sorely needed after such a revelation of police corruption and breach of trust was a candidate for the top spot who was completely beyond reproach... someone cleaner than the driven snow... a Mother Theresa with a badge.  The problem (for those who haven't been following the news) is that the person selected as the new head of the national police was, himself charged with several forms of corruption several years ago when he was serving in a command position in the north of the country.  He was ultimately acquitted of the charges by the skin of his teeth, based on reasonable doubt... but was far from vindicated.

Here's the 'Cliff Notes' version of the whole sordid tale from the Jerusalem Post*:

"Ganot was tried in Nazareth District Court on counts of accepting a bribe, fraud and breach of trust. He was originally accused of seven separate offenses. The first four had to do with accepting favors in the form of house renovations provided free of charge or for a low fee from Israeli-Arab contractor Subhi Tanus during the summer of 1992.

According to the fifth charge, Tanus threw a party for Ganot at his home when Ganot was appointed commander of the Northern Police District. According to the sixth charge, Tanus's company painted the exterior of Ganot's house for a low fee. The seventh charge had to do with allegations that Ganot had used a police subordinate to provide personal services for him.

In return for the favors allegedly provided by Tanus, Ganot supposedly provided him with protection when he got into trouble with the law.

The state subsequently dropped the first and fourth charges, and the District Court acquitted him of the rest.

The state then appealed to the Supreme Court. In a two-to-one decision, the court upheld the lower court ruling.

However, Justice Ya'acov Kedmi voted to convict Ganot of breach of faith - the fifth charge - involving the party held for Ganot, while the majority, justices Eliezer Goldberg and Yitzhak Zamir, wrote with regard to the bribery charges that while it was customary not to interfere with the lower court's interpretation of the facts, they had found the state's case to be persuasive, and had they been presiding over the trial, they might have ruled differently."

Not a pretty picture is it... and far from one which might inspire trust among the citizenry.

Considering how demoralized the Israeli public is at seeing blatant and unapologetic dishonesty and corruption at every level of government, it is shameful that Avi Dichter made an appointment guaranteed to further erode any semblance of trust that might remain.

I hold out a glimmer of hope that Ganot's appointment might be quashed or set aside by some legal maneuvering (there are already several legal challenges)... but at this point my trust that the system will work for anything but it's own cynical self-perpetuation is a flickering flame in a windstorm.

And as Forrest Gump would say; 'That's all I have to say about that'.



Posted by David Bogner on February 20, 2007 | Permalink


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Who indicted Ganot? Edna Arbel?

Posted by: soccerdad | Feb 20, 2007 6:26:38 PM

There used to be a joke: why do Israeli police go around in pairs? Answer: one to read and one to write. In Russia when I went underground on behalf of Soviet Jewry in 1976, I was told that Russian police go around in trios: one to read, one to write and one to supervise the other two intellectuals. I guess no we need to update the old Israeli version so: Why to Israeli police go around in quartets? One to read, another write, a third to take the bribe and the fourth to act as their lawyer.

Posted by: Yisrael Medad | Feb 20, 2007 11:19:59 PM

Want to see why 40% of the public don't trust the police? Click here.

Posted by: JoeSettler | Feb 21, 2007 12:52:18 AM

That does sound pretty bad. I'm surprised there's no more grassroots pressure for real change, considering there's such a high level of public dissatisfaction.

Posted by: Irina | Feb 21, 2007 6:58:14 AM

I'm terribly off topic here - I know you must deal with a lot of anti-Israeli trolls (I'm not one)
There is a rock musician here in Canada who has some strong opinions about world politics and blasts them on his blog. He has said ridiculous things in the past such as: Israel should not protect itself against terrorists because Israel has better weapons. WTF?
He has most recently brought up that crap about Israel's situation being akin to apartheid.
I am no expert, but...
I wonder, if you had the time or inclination, if you could enlighten him. You would have to register on his site.
He's at www.matthewgood.org

Posted by: jeannie | Feb 24, 2007 5:03:00 AM

THe question is - how does that compare to other countries?
Is it so unusual?
And also - if this means that 60 percent trust the police then I would be really worried - that means that a majority of Israelis are blind and deaf, and just plain stoopid.

Posted by: jerusalem joe | Feb 26, 2007 9:41:34 AM

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