Complaints of Racism in Israel Triple From 2019 to 2020, Gov't Report Shows

Israel is facing is 'racism on wheels,' says specialized unit chief, with targets constantly changing – this year, it's the ultra-Orthodox, and still Ethiopian Israelis and Arabs

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Coronavirus vaccinations in the ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, last month.
Coronavirus vaccinations in the ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, last month.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

There were three times as many complaints about racism in 2020 than in 2019, according to an annual report issued on Wednesday by a government unit that coordinates steps against race-based abuse.

The unit reported a peak number of complaints since its establishment in 2017. Fifty-four percent of cases involved racism and discrimination against Israelis of Ethiopian descent and Arabs. More than half the complaints about racism were made by members of the Haredi community.

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There were a total of 1,450 complaints made, as opposed to only 497 the year before. Officials attribute the rise to health and social issues due to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the Knesset election campaigns at the beginning of 2020.

One of the complaints was that Haredi women were discriminated against in a maternity ward by being segregated and humiliated. After a look at the complaint the unit asked the Health Ministry to inquire into whether hospital officials permitted distinguishing between Haredi mothers-to-be and other women. The ministry then issued instructions to provide equal care to all groups and that nobody should suffer from discrimination based on where they lived or their group affiliation.

A demonstration following the death of Ethiopian Israeli Solomon Teka, last year.Credit: Rami Shllush

Another complaint alleged that the police had issued a report that played on a stereotype and was discriminatory in its campaign for online complaints about criminal misconduct. It presented a generic offender as “a person who looks like a man with a medium built and dark skin.” The unit asked the police to stop the campaign and the video was removed from its web sites and revised.

The report is the fourth issued by the unit, which was launched to lead a fight against racism in the civil service. Elyakim Rubinstein, a retired Supreme Court justice who heads the unit, said it was established “against the backdrop of racism shown toward Ethiopians, and that 2020 saw many instances of such behavior against Haredim because of the coronavirus crisis as the report’s numbers show, and to a certain extent toward Arabs.”

Rubinstein said, “Since its target changes depending on the period, this phenomenon could be dubbed “racism on wheels,” in other words it looks for different targets. The challenge is to fight against it. The address in many cases is the political system and there is room for hope that it may be fixed, but in the meantime individual complaints must be handled and that’s what the unit against racism does.”

The report found that 26 complaints were made over discrimination in providing public services, 19% about racist remarks, 15% about discrimination in employment, and 11% complained of a racist publication or stereotype. Nine percent involved complaints against police and other law enforcement, 4 percent were about education and 3 percent were about crimes with racist motives.

A demonstration following the death of Ethiopian Israeli Solomon Teka, last year.Credit: Rami Shllush

The unit has broken down the complaints based on the identities of the victims. Twenty-seven percent of cases were about racism shown toward Israelis of Ethiopian origin or descent, 19 percent were about discrimination against Haredim, 7 percent dealt with discrimination against immigrants from the former Soviet Union and 20 percent about involved other population groups.

A breakdown of the identities of those who complained finds that 56% of the complaints were about the Haredi community, particularly comments by public figures or offensive media reports against the Haredim. Fifteen percent complained about cases regarding immigrants from the former Soviet Union, 13 percent were about Israelis of Ethiopian origin, 9 percent had to do with the Arab community, 1 percent were about anti-asylum seeker behavior while 6 percent had to do with other population groups.

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