The Pyongyang District Police and the Tel Aviv press walkout

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Cops doing a musical routine at the Tel Aviv District yearly round-up. (photo: Ben Hartman)

This could have been a scene straight out of North Korea, or at least that’s what a few of the crime reporters present said.

What should have been an event to honor Tel Aviv’s cops had become a love-in for Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino. Before Israel’s top cop took to the podium, three cherubic little children clad in Tel Aviv Police t-shirts beamed towards the crowd of some 300 uniformed police.

“Who’s the most handsome cop? The commissioner!” one child cried. Another child went with “Who’s the bravest, most heroic cop? The commissioner!”

The event officially began with a video, first showing footage of President Obama giving his 2013 State of the Union address. As the president spoke, the “translation” running across the bottom of the screen praised the performance of Tel Aviv’s finest, eliciting giggles from the crowd. This joke was repeated with a clip of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s most recent address at the UN, only this time the subtitles included mock threats against officers in the Tel Aviv police, mentioning them by name, as well as warnings about how “the next year will be a hot one in Tel Aviv.”

This was followed by a few quick shots taken from the final battle scene of “the Avengers”, with New York apparently representing Tel Aviv. And by the time Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah popped up, purportedly cracking jokes about the officers in the district, the theme was wearing a bit thin.

In between the gags, the video included a run-down of the events dealt with by police over the past year, including the bus bombing during Operation Pillar of Defense in November, both car bombings targeting crime boss Nissim Alperon, the self-immolation of Moshe Silman, the Gay Pride Parade and the social justice protests. During the entire video, a techno beat throbbed throughout the auditorium, while footage of police raids, gun seizures, and marijuana grow labs danced across the screen. And of course, Danino appeared repeatedly in the film – visiting kids in hospitals, meeting everyday citizens, and generally looking handsome and brave. Tel Aviv District Commander Aharon Aksel was noticeably less present.

Like every year, a highlight (in my opinion), were the song and dance numbers. During one routine, a trio of cops – two female, one male and all rather hefty – belted out “Galgal Anak” (“ferris wheel” or “giant wheel”), only minutes after a troupe of school kids (one assumes the children of police officers) performed a quick number of their own.

All sounds harmless enough, but it wasn’t all love and adulation. For as Danino took the stage, the press section emptied: Ten reporters walked out in a pre-planned protest over how the national police high command has dealt with the press in recent months.

As the reporters exited the hall, Danino’s spokeswoman yelled at them. “That was ugly! That was so ugly! That was a declaration of war!” The walls of the hall were apparently thin, as a cop came out to say that her yells could be heard inside. “Please take this elsewhere,” she was told.

“Something like this has never been done before”, said one reporter, a sort-of leader of the initiative.

The basis of the dispute was the ongoing failure – or, as others contend, refusal – by the national police spokesperson’s department to inform reporters of major cases being investigated by police. These include the investigation into Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, the Bayit Yehudi vote-buying scandal, the investigation into Rabbi Pinto, and the death of Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat in Megiddo Prison last week.

The reporters contend that the broad use of gag orders and the absence of police briefings on such cases leave them out of the loop on what’s going on in their field, often leaving them asking for colleagues on the politics beat for updates on major police stories. The reporters cite the regular briefings the army gives to defense reporters, and say that the police should at least follow the same model. Overall, the sentiment being expressed is one of humiliation, of not having the answers for their editors, and not getting any cooperation from police spokespeople, who were busy last week emailing pictures of police and their kids in Purim costumes and nagging them to publish them.

So while the reporters sat outside buzzing about their walk-out, the song-and-dance routines inside continued, followed by refreshments. Danino cancelled a 3pm meeting scheduled with the reporters, and beepers and police WhatsApp groups went silent. It seems as though the police spokespeople decided to cut off reporters as punishment for the walk-out (the spokespeople maintain that no such decision has been made and by the next day things appeared to have returned to normal).

True, in North Korea, the reporters would have been executed, sent to a work camp, or most likely, would never have existed in the first place. And in North Korea, the police commissioner is certainly not as handsome, courageous, or heroic as ours.

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