By: HaRav Menashe Sasson
Reporting from Jerusalem, Israel
Published in the U.S.A.
The State of Israel has one, national, police department. Unlike some other countries, each city or region in Israel does not have its own separate and independent police department. Israel’s one and only police department provides civilian law enforcement services to all areas of the country where civilian law enforcement is conducted.
The highest-ranking police officer in Israel, the police administrator from whom all other police officers in the country take their orders, is the Police Commissioner. Needless to say, the Police Commissioner possesses an enormous amount of power.
The Israel Police fall under the purview of the Ministry of Internal Security [המשרד לביטחון הפנים], which oversees not only the Israel Police, but also the Israel Prison Service and the Israel National Fire and Rescue Services.
The “Government of Israel” [ממשלת ישראל], also known informally as the “Cabinet of Israel” is the executive “branch” of the Israeli government. The Government of Israel is composed of various ministers who are selected by, and who serve at the pleasure of, the Prime Minister. These ministers, in turn, typically have “portfolios,” that is, they occupy the senior-most position in one or more ministries. With the exception of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, ministers in the Government of Israel need not be members of the Knesset [הכנסת], Israel’s (unicameral) legislature, although typically, ministers are also concurrent members of the Knesset [הכנסת].
The role of the Knesset [הכנסת] is to pass laws, elect the (ceremonial) president of Israel, approve the membership of ministers in the Government of Israel, and supervise the work of the Government of Israel.
The Prime Minister, who is appointed by the Knesset [הכנסת], as the Head of Government, is the chief executive officer of the State of Israel.
Summarizing the structure of the Israeli government, the members of the Knesset [הכנסת] (legislature) select a prime minister (Israel’s chief executive officer). The prime minster then selects the ministers who head the various ministries in the executive “branch” of government (Government of Israel), including the Ministry of Internal Security [המשרד לביטחון הפנים], which ostensibly has control over the Israel Police.
Notwithstanding placement of the Israel Police under the Ministry of Internal Security [המשרד לביטחון הפנים], Israel Police regulations currently provide that the unelected Police Commissioner, rather than the Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (who is accountable to the Prime Minister), has the sole authority to determine police policy. Such policy decisions include whether Jews who openly pray on Har HaBayit (Temple Mount) [הר הבית] will be arrested and criminally prosecuted and whether, and to what extent, enforcement operations on more routine matters will be undertaken and, if so, prioritized.
In other words, the elected members of government (or, more precisely, members of a political party that stood for election) have absolutely no legal authority to decide or control policy which guides police operations; the legal ability to create and implement such policy resides exclusively with the unelected police commissioner.
In a democracy, which the State of Israel claims to be, it is imperative that a politician who is accountable to the electorate, and not an unelected government official, be the final authority on matters of government policy. This is true when the policy relates to a local or regional police department and is especially true when it relates to a national police department.
Proposed legislation was recently introduced in the Knesset [הכנסת] which, if passed into law, would divest the police commissioner of the authority to create policy, transfer that authority to the Minister of Internal Security. Under the proposed law, the police commissioner would be given the responsibility of “manag[ing] the police in accordance with the policy and general principles that the minister will outline.”
Thus, if passed into law, this proposed legislation will transfer to an elected official (or at least a member of a political party that stood for election) the responsibility for making police policy. The proposed law also relegates to the police commissioner – an unelected official – the responsibility of implementing that policy. This, of course, is how government in a democratic society should work.
Only in police states, which by their very nature are tyrannical, do we find the situation where unelected officials, who are not answerable to elected officials, decide police policy and enforcement priorities.
Naturally, as we might expect from any unelected government bureaucrat who faces a diminution of his power, the current Police Commissioner, along with several dozen former Police Commissioners, oppose this reform. Comments in opposition include, for example, “the independence of the police is essential in a democratic country” and “[l]eave state security and law enforcement out of politics.” Sadly, what those who oppose this proposed reform fail to understand is that the determination of policy which guides the operations of “state security and law enforcement” are, by definition, political questions which, in a democratic society, can be answered only by elected officials.
The proposed legislation which would transfer to the Minister of Internal Security the right to make policy for the Israel Police, and to concurrently divest the Police Commissioner of that power, is a step in the right direction.
IMPORTANT NOTE TO READERS: This article is not, and should not be interpreted as, an indictment of the Holy Land of Israel (חס ושלום); rather, this article merely highlights an aspect of the secular government of the State of Israel that is in dire need of reform. “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government [only] when it deserves it.” Mark Twain.
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