Three years ago, Brig. Gen. Efraim Bracha came to a private meeting with his commander, Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich, head of the Israel Police Investigations branch. Nothing had prepared Segalovich for the bombshell Bracha was about to drop.
“Eight days ago, at a meeting with Rabbi [Yeshayahu] Pinto in his suite at the Hilton Hotel, he offered me $200,000,” Bracha told him.
Segalovich knew that Bracha had a complicated relationship with Pinto; that Bracha regarded Pinto as a spiritual guide, and that from time to time the rabbi would give the investigations officer pieces of sensitive information that helped him in white-collar and organized crime probes.
Segalovich asked to know more about the circumstances in which the rabbi had offered the officer the bribe. Bracha gave him all the details, squirming uncomfortably in his chair. His body language, and in particular his eyes, conveyed that he wanted this volatile information to remain in the room, for Segalovich to order him to sever all ties with Pinto and thus bring this saga of unusual relations between him and the well-connected rabbi from Ashdod to an end.
But Segalovich decided to act. He ordered Bracha to give Pinto the impression that all was business as usual, and to meet with Pinto when he returned to Israel from Manhattan, to record him and even to send his wife to pick up the money from the rabbi’s wife. Bracha knew that his life was about to change; that he was about to set out on a campaign against one of Israel’s most powerful men. Bracha was aware that Pinto was connected to the state’s leading tycoons, government ministers, publishers and senior journalists. He knew the rabbi’s court well, having attended prestigious dinners the rabbi held and was exposed to his capabilities. But he had probably underestimated Pinto’s true influence.
“You are no rabbi”
The signs of ostracism appeared immediately. People in the synagogue Bracha prayed in turn their backs on him, gave him dirty looks, and viewed him as a “moser,” an informer. During his early testimonies to the police Bracha tried to preserve the rabbi’s honor, speaking about him discreetly, as if he wanted to limit the damage to him as best he could. But when he learned that the rabbi was accusing him of corrupt dealings with the Israeli mafia, of accepting perks from criminals and of other violations, Bracha became disillusioned and exploded. “You are no rabbi,” he snapped at Pinto during a confrontation the police arranged between them. “If I took even a shekel from you I will place my head on the gallows and commit suicide.”
Pinto, his followers, and his uninhibited publicists did not give up. They promised themselves that this battle would end in victory. The rabbi’s followers launched an entire industry of fatal, unbridled rumors regarding Bracha, and didn’t let up. They disseminated sensitive personal information about him that would have hurt those less tough than Bracha, accused him of corrupt ties with the worst of Israeli criminals, of being a serial bribe-taker, and of leaking information from sensitive investigations to shady individuals and those with vested interests.
Imaginary skeletons in Bracha’s closet
This nasty tide was joined by police officers past and present, who spread rumors and half-truths about him that always led to absolutely nothing. I personally investigated some of these rumors and discovered there was nothing to them. Although none of these allegations survived scrutiny, the rumor mill landed a partial success. Even Bracha’s friends started to have doubts, ask themselves questions, and keep their distance. “Something about this Bracha doesn’t smell right,” the father of one of the police’s senior officers said to his son, who understood that the persecution campaign had done its job. Nearly every week, journalists were sending queries to the Israel Police spokesman about the imaginary skeletons in Bracha’s closet. It was a methodical, obsessive campaign, and it may have done Bracha in.
Journalists with questionable ethics
There were several journalists involved in this game; in doing so they may well have betrayed their calling as journalists, if they ever had one. One of them, Aviram Zino of Maariv, gave evidence against Bracha a few weeks ago to the Justice Ministry department for the investigation of police officers. Among other things, he showed investigators a WhatsApp exchange with Bracha, in which the latter shared with him developments in the investigation of the overspending at the prime minister’s residences.
That journalist, who thus burned a source, the most egregious professional sin of all, had several weeks earlier given information to the attorney general that included very intimate details about one of Bracha’s family members. “If this gets out, he’ll kill himself,” Bracha told the journalist about his relative. The information was not published, but found its way to Weinstein’s desk even though it had no real public importance other than to make Bracha look bad. Coincidentally or not, three weeks ago Zino visited Pinto’s opulent villa in Ashdod, which overlooks the sea.
Bracha’s suicide may well be another sign of the deterioration of the journalistic profession. Questionable work practices have become the hallmarks of some of them. Zino argues that he did not reveal a source, since he and Bracha had never had that kind of relationship, and that he had passed on the WhatsApp message in question to all his editors. He passed on the materials in question to the attorney general because he understood they had the potential to paint Bracha in a negative light.
Another news site, News1, conducted a wild, uninhibited, and violent crusade against Bracha. “Brig. Gen. Bracha is a danger to the public,” wrote the site’s editor, Yoav Yitzhak. It’s not the first time that this site chose exquisite British understatement to characterize the targets of its coverage. This same site accused Bracha of alleged corruption and called him shocking names.
“Sue him,” a close friend of Bracha urged him recently. “And if I sue him for 10 million shekels [$2.6 million], it will help?” Bracha answered, in a tone of despair. “He has $100 million behind him.”
Yoav Yitzhak reacted to Bracha’s suicide this morning by saying, “Brig. Gen. Bracha decided to take his own life knowing full well the content of the investigation against him by the police investigation department that was opened following revelations by News1.”
In contrast, people familiar with the details said that the probe against Bracha had not yet uncovered any disturbing information, and that the general impression is that Pinto’s followers were trying to frame him. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan believed in the officer’s honesty and were very skeptical about the information against Bracha, suspecting that it was part of an orchestrated and organized campaign.
Efraim Bracha was a brave and effective officer, though he possessed weaknesses, the main one being an inability to be a good judge of character. He chose the wrong rabbi and maintained a close relationship with him, one which anyone with a sober view of things knew would end badly. He also chose the wrong lawyer, Ronel Fisher, not realizing he was a dubious con man. He chose to be in touch with and give information to a journalist who had sensitive information about a family member, without being fully conscious of the possible ramifications.
“Prepared to die for the police”
“I’m prepared to die for the police,” he told the police who questioned him when he gave evidence about allegedly accepting bribes from Pinto. One senior law enforcement official had previously told Haaretz that Bracha was living on borrowed time, since a dangerous criminal he had put behind bars had promised to take revenge against him. For years he and his family were carefully guarded. That law enforcement official believed that when Bracha would retire from the force, the vengeful criminal would get his way. Now that issue is moot.
In recent months, Bracha had been exhibiting obvious signs of distress. He cried at times during internal discussions and felt isolated and persecuted, to the point that apparently he came to believe that death was preferable to life.