It was a hot mic moment, even if police did invite the reporter to the event to begin with.
On Tuesday, during a visit to the Ayalon subdistict headquarters in Holon, Israel Police Chief Inspector General Yochanan Danino started firing in all directions, mainly at the press and how they've handled the recent wave of underworld killings in Israel.
“You turn on the radio in the morning and you hear there's an emergency situation and you have to head for the bomb shelter. This is called the reality as the media sees it. I would like to calm everyone down and tell you that the pubic believes you and the public is not afraid,” Danino said, adding that Israel has known worse periods of crime in the past.
Speaking of the country's crime reporters, many of who have a less than loving relationship with Danino, he said “there are police reporters who are afraid that they won't have anything to write about anymore. They say the situation is an emergency but the facts are completely different.”
Further, Israel's top cop said the real problem is that “people in this country talk like they’re experts when they don’t understand anything” and that “Israelis don’t know how to give credit where its due”.
He then mentioned the latest underworld killing, the murder of a 27-year-old Jaffa man known to police, who was gunned down on the Tel Aviv seafront just north of Jaffa, in front of hundreds of witnesses.
“If this had been 50 meters south [in Jaffa] no one would have cared but because it was next to the tahana center everyone was screaming to the high heavens.”
Now, what do you do in a situation like this? If you're Danino, you just turn off the news, tune it out altogether.
“I already stopped listening to the radio, I suggest you do that same,” Danino told the cops at the Holon station.
All these gems were picked up by Azri Amram, a reporter for Ch. 2 who was invited to attend the visit and film it. According to police, Amram, one of the hardest-working reporters I've met in Israel, was told explicitly that the visit was to be off the record, no interviews, no quotes. They then sent out an announcement to all crime reporters and media outlets in Israel criticizing the report, saying it was out of context and accusing Amram of a grave violation of journalistic ethics.
Basically, we invited you to our party and you turned over the punch bowl and pissed in the mashed potatoes.
Within minutes, other outlets were running Ch. 2's story, Danino took another black eye from the press, and his thorny relationship with Israel's crime reporters took another hit to the gut.
On the other hand, is there something to what Danino is saying?
In terms of the killing on the seafront, there was definitely something to what he said. If that killing had been a few blocks south in Jaffa, chances are it wouldn't have been a huge story. On a Sunday afternoon in Jaffa in November a young man was gunned down on Yehuda Hayamit street and it made barely blip in the national news. But Saturday's killing was on the seafront just a bit too far north, across from the Tahana where hundreds of Israelis were visiting a chocolate festival.
It's true that Israel has seen nearly a dozen car bombs in the past four months and almost two dozen underworld killings, as explosions and shootings have been seen in cities across the country. In addition, police have made a series of high-profile arrests of mafia figures large and small in the last few months, only to see almost all of them released a few days later due to lack of evidence.
That said, some of the panic is a bit out of proportion. No, Israel is not Chicago in the 20s and 30s nor does the level of violent crime or insecurity really compare to that of almost any major American city. Also, despite all the headlines about “criminal terrorism” and citizens afraid to leave their houses, Israel's crime rate was worse in recent years and there have been other phases like this in the past, some that were arguably worse.
There was the war between the Abergil family and Ze'ev Rosenstein and his associates a decade ago that saw a bomb blast (meant for Rosenstein) kill four innocent bystanders outside a currency exchange on Yehuda Halevi in Tel Aviv. In the late 80s and early 90s there was the war between the Pardes Katz gang and the Ramat Amidar that saw a heap of bodies dropped on the streets of central Israel. Recently, there's also been the brutal war waged between the gangs in East and West Rishon Letzion, a gang feud that has also taken a dozen victims.
Still, as any wise police officer will tell you, there's statistic and there's perception. And regardless of if police are able to statistically reduce the number of mob hits and murders, as long as the public feels that the situation is not under their control, they will continue to be criticized.
A day before the Ch 2 article came out I heard a crime reporter talking about how with all due respect to the Israeli mob, some of the panic is out of proportion, and the sensationalism is being flamed by editors looking either to sell papers or smear Netanyahu or both. One reporter joked about how after the arrest of 8 members of a southern Israel crime family last week a reporter at a rival paper already had written an article ready to publish for when the gangsters are released without charge due to a lack of evidence.
Are people out to get the police and Danino? Sure, some are. But the criticism is the symptom of the inability of police to win public trust, in a country where the Army and security services are sacred and the mob doesn't seem to hesitate to settle accounts in broad daylight. It's also indicative of the the inability of the top police brass to understand the media.
The day after Danino's comments were published, Israel Radio crime reporter Adi Meiri dropped a bombshell scoop – the witness in the Bar Noar double murder case has been arrested and the indictment against Hagai Felician is on the verge of collapse. Also Wednesday, the High Court lifted the gag order on a decade old case revealing that Efraim Bracha, today the head of the “YAHA” anti-fraud unit burned a police agent for his own personal gain, after which the state lost a lawsuit to the informant. Despite the wrongdoing, Bracha continued to move up the ranks of the police.
Good thing Danino doesn't listen to the radio.
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