HCJ rebukes Alsheikh, orders him to rethink Rittman reinstatement
In decision regarding reinstatement of fmr. head of Lahav 433 Roni Rittman following allegations of sexual harassment, High Court orders Commissioner Alsheikh, Minister Erdan to reconsider; rebukes police chief due to statements saying incident involving forceful grabbing of subordinate officer had 'legitimate interpretations.'
Responding to a petition calling for the former commander of the police's elite Lahav 433 unit Maj.-Gen. Roni Rittman to not be returned to his former position, the High Court instructed Monday Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh and Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan to make a new decision regarding Rittman's resumption of duties.
Alsheikh decided to return Rittman to his former role in December 2015 after he was forced to take a leave of absence following allegations of sexual harassment. The police commissioner determined then there was no substantial foundation for taking administrative steps and therefore, in one of his first major decisions as police chief, decided to return Rittman to the helm of Lahav 433.
The complainant against Rittman appealed to the High Court after learning of Alsheikh's decision and the court published its verdict Monday. "We have reached the conclusion that the decision regarding Rittman in its current promulgation cannot stand," the court's ruling said, written by Justice Uzi Fogelman.
"At this juncture, it has not been deemed necessary to order Rittman's firing or removal from duty, as the petition sought, but to return the decision on his matter of the minister and commissioner, who should convene to make a new decision," the verdict read.
Justice Fogelman's message was unequivocal. "Comments of a chauvinistic or sexist nature have no place within the confines of relations with a subordinate, doubly so within the police force. That should be a clear, publicized organizational standard, and the same goes for the period relating to the petitioner's complaint," Fogelman stated.
"It should be stated plainly that such utterances are out of bounds and deviate from a proper, correct behavioral standard. They are degrading to women, injurious to their dignity and make it harder for them to integrate as equal members of the workforce," Fogelman concluded.
Doubts arose regarding Alsheikh's 'legitimate interpretations' statement
The High Court also criticized Alsheikh's handling of the affair. "After the parties' claims and polygraph tests, as well as external testimonies, were examined, we are of the opinion the commissioner's stance regarding the strength of administrative evidence as it pertains to the Har Hotzvim incident is strenuous. The commissioner's decision did not consider the testimony of M., who witnessed the incident (but not the purported attempt at a kiss—ed) and claimed Rittman irregularly held the petitioner and drew his mouth closer to hers, while she clearly attempted to push him back," the court's decision said.
"Even if M. never testified Rittman tried kissing the petitioner against her will, her account supports the petitioner's complaint against Rittman for grabbing and pulling her closer to him, as well as her claim she forcefully tried to extricate herself from his grasp. M.'s statements, coming from a source that cannot be suspected of having ulterior motives, contradict Rittman's statement before Internal Affairs, which was a blanket denial. The commissioner's decision made no reference of this," the court admonished.
"We find the commissioner's claim that says even if Rittman grabbed the petitioner's hand and pulled her close to him, such an incident may have 'legitimate interpretations' difficult to accept, and it is therefore unsurprising no concrete examples of such interpretations were provided. We find it difficult to come up with legitimate interpretations of an incident in which the petitioner's hand was grabbed and she was pulled towards the person who was then the commander of the division in which she served," the judges added.
"It is difficult, then, to determine such an incident may have legitimate interpretations, an incident which does not align with the required conduct of a police officer. (Rittman's) mere actions must be given proper attention, even without reference to the attempted kiss," the verdict concluded.
Executive Director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel Orit Sulitzeanu welcomed the decision. "The court determined the decision to not remove Rittman from his position was wrong. It was a slap in the face, serving as evidence of Alsheikh's moral and managerial failures. We call upon the commissioner to find a worthy position for (the complainant)—who has been paying a heavy price for her call to justice—without delay," she said.
The affair's chronology
The petition was made against Rittman alleging that in 2010-2011, Maj.-Gen. Rittman directed utterances of a sexual nature at the complainant and, in one incident, grabbed her and forcefully tried to kiss her. The complainant told former police commissioner Yohanan Danino of the alleged sexual harassment, and he directed her to contact Internal Affairs.
Rittman was interrogated on suspicion of committing forceful indecent assault and sexual harassment. Internal Affairs recommended Rittman be indicted, but the attorney general determined no criminal proceedings were warranted, instead order an internal review be held.
The commissioner ended up deciding against taking any steps and allowed Rittman to resume his duties. The officer who made the allegations then petitioned the High Court, and demanded the commissioner and minister of public security be instructed to change their decision and commence disciplinary steps against him.
However, it was the officer herself who ended up facing disciplinary charges. Police indicted the officer, as well as head of the force's intelligence division Brig.-Gen. Guy Nir, at the police's disciplinary court, claiming they had made false claims of meeting each other while they were actually elsewhere. The charges were failure to follow orders and behavior unbefitting an officer.
The officer also filed a slander suit against the commissioner, who she claimed had called her a "criminal."
"It was not a good faith slip of the tongue, but an intentional, prolonged attack with the attempt of degrading and humiliating," the suit said. The suit alleged the commissioner made such an utterance before a forum of people and in response to a question about the Rittman affair. It remained unclear before which forum Alsheikh made the remarks.
"They are an abject lie and slander of the highest order, as (the officer) was never indicted or charged with any criminal wrongdoing. Such statements are baseless, slanderous and degrading. They are made all the more severe considering they were made by the chief of police, tasked with law enforcement in Israel," the suit claimed.