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News > World

Israeli Police Chief Says 'Natural' to Target Ethiopians, Arabs

  • A protester, who is an Israeli Jews of Ethiopian origin, shouts at a policeman during a demonstration last year against police racism and brutality.

    A protester, who is an Israeli Jews of Ethiopian origin, shouts at a policeman during a demonstration last year against police racism and brutality. | Photo: Reuters

Published 30 August 2016

Ethiopian and Arab leaders in Israel responded to the comments by calling them “racist and discriminatory” but not surprising.

It is “natural” for Israeli police to be more suspicious of Ethiopian and Arab Israelis than of other citizens, Israeli police Chief Roni Alsheich said during a conference Tuesday when responding to accusations of police brutality and abuse by his own officers.

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“Studies the world over, without exception, have shown that immigrants are invariably more involved in crime than others, and this should not come as a surprise,” Alsheich told a gathering of the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv, in response to a question about racist policing and discrimination against Ethiopian-Israelis.

"Over-policing is natural” when it comes to Ethiopians, the Times of Israel and Haaretz quoted Alsheich as saying, due to the “studies” he referred to which he allege link minorities to higher levels of crime.

Ethiopian-Israelis number about 120,000 of Israel's 8 million population. They began immigrating to Israel in the 1970s after chief rabbis determined they had biblical roots.

On Tuesday Alsheich defended his forces, saying young officers were suspicious of immigrants. “When a police officer comes across a suspicious person (either young or from an immigrant background, or both), his brain suspects him more than if (the suspect) were someone else, it’s natural.”

The Times of Israel further reported the police chief “made these comments also in reference to Arab-Israelis and East Jerusalem Palestinians who come in contact with Israeli police officers.”

His comments have not gone down well with leaders of the Ethiopian community in Israel. Gadi Yibarkan, local activist and head of the Campaign for Equality for Ethiopian Jews, told the outlet Tuesday that the police chief was “not particularly smart for openly saying that Israel was a racist country.”

Yibarkan added that the police chief made it seem “understandable that police officers deal violently with Black people and Arabs.”

Arab-Israeli leaders also expressed dismay over the police chief’s comments. Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List party, said Tuesday he was not surprised to hear Alsheich make “racist and discriminatory” comments.

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“The commissioner needs to be reminded that it’s his job to serve and provide security for all Israeli citizens, not just white Jews,” he said, adding that Israeli police “systematically mistreats the weaker sectors of the population.”

Last year Israel witnessed anti-police brutality protests similar to those that took place in U.S. cities against police killings. Thousands of Israeli-Ethiopians protested in the streets of Jerusalem after a video surfaced showing Israeli police assaulting Demas Fekadeh, an Israeli soldier of Ethiopian descent.

Yibarkan, a leading organizer of those protests, said then that “Apparently the streets of Israel must burn like they do in Baltimore, in order for someone to finally wake up. The apartheid regime is back, this time in 21st-century Israel.”

In 2014, protests also erupted in Israel over the death of a 22-year-old Ethiopian-Israeli after he received a serious injury when the police used tear gas against him. His family found him handcuffed and unconscious while in police custody. He died shortly after in a hospital.

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