Policing the police
On one hand, the High Court of Justice’s reprimand of Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich for allowing Asst.-Ch. Roni Ritman to remain commander of Lahav 443 – the Israeli FBI – is yet another testament to the strength of Israel’s democratic institutions. It is proof that when really bad personnel decisions are made in the public sector, our system of checks and balances steps in to rectify the situation.
On the other hand, that Alsheich thought it appropriate to keep as head of Lahav 443 a man who had been accused of sexual harassment is a sign that there are still plenty of men in key positions who have a cavalier attitude toward the sort of sexual harassment that used to be commonplace in male-dominated workplaces – particularly in institutions like the Israel Police or the IDF, where physical aggression is inherent to the job.
Ritman reflected this ingrained male chauvinism during questioning by Police Internal Investigations officers. He admitted to making sexist remarks to female subordinates “just as any normal man who is psychologically healthy does.” He also admitted to commenting on the good looks of “Z,” though he denied sexually harassing her.
High Court justice Uzi Fogelman chastised Alsheich for excusing Ritman as a throwback to an earlier era when sexist comments were a daily reality.
“It is important to make it clear that these sorts of comments are illegitimate and deviate from the standards of proper behavior,” Fogelman wrote in the decision. “They discriminate against women, hurt their dignity and make it difficult for them to integrate as equals in the workplace.”
But Ritman’s behavior did not stop at sexist remarks. On one occasion, an eyewitness – who happened to be a police officer – said she saw a drunk Ritman run after “Z,” grab her by the hand and force her head toward his in an attempt to kiss her. On another occasion, “Z” said Ritman had said to her: “What I would do with you if you were not my subordinate.” According to “Z,” Ritman also told her to “turn around so we can see you shake your ass.”
This was the man Alsheich insisted remain head of Lahav 443, a unit responsible for, among other things, investigating sex-related crimes committed by public figures. And he stuck to his position despite a recommendation from the Police Internal Investigations unit to indict Ritman.
The Ritman case could have been an opportunity for Alsheich to clarify proper male-female relations at a time when the police force is inundated with sexual misconduct offenses perpetrated by its highest officers.
Is Alsheich not aware of the circumstances at the time of his own appointment? Of 18 assistant chiefs – the rank just below commissioner – a third had left or been fired under the shadow of scandal, including sexual scandal. The situation was so bad that the government had to go looking for a new commissioner in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), where Alsheich served as deputy head.
But instead of devoting his time and energy to changing the intolerable culture of gender relations within the Israel Police, Alsheich lashed out at the victims in an apparent attempt to intimidate them into silence.
In March 2016, just a few months after becoming commissioner, Alsheich said – during an event to mark International Women’s Day, no less – that he would end the practice of allowing anonymous sexual harassment complaints. From now on, women who complained would have to identify themselves.
It should come as no surprise that the number of complaints plummeted.
A year later, Alsheich publicly called “Z” a criminal for daring to complain about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Ritman.
We now wait to see how Alsheich will respond to the High Court decision. In an ideal world, the court would never have gotten involved because Ritman would never have been kept at his position. But with men like Alsheich leading the police, it’s reassuring to know that there are judges in Jerusalem.