Court Orders Israel Police to Draft Standards for IDing People Following Petition on Racial Profiling

The court ruling follows petitions filed with the backing of the Israel Bar Association by civil rights organizations, alleging improper ethnic profiling

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A policeman in Jerusalem.
A policeman in Jerusalem, Jan. 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The High Court of Justice gave the police on Monday three months to develop clear criteria regarding when a police officer can demand to see the identity card of a member of the public.

Petitioners accused the police of racial profiling, including profiling of members of the Israel's Ethiopian Jewish community.

The current police regulation permits officers to demand an ID on what are described as "reasonable grounds," even if there is no suspicion that the person broke the law.

It the police fail to develop clear criteria within the three months, the current regulation will be rescinded, the court ruled. The court decision was rendered in response to petitions by a number of civil rights organizations, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Association of Ethiopian Jews.

The three-justice panel, headed by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, also included Justices Hanan Melcer and Alex Stein.  "The demand that a person identify themself to a police officer through an identity card could lead to actual infringement of the right to human dignity," Hayut wrote, noting that if such a request is made in public, it might be perceived by passersby as a sign that the person was suspected of a crime and might also be carried out arbitrarily. Police officers have demanded IDs on a selective basis, she stated, "leading to discrimination against certain minorities, even if it was without malicious intent."

The Israel Bar Association, which supported the petitioners' challenge, entered the case as a friend of the court. 

The current police regulation, which is from March of 2019, states that "a police officer will exercise their authority to demand identification only in situations in which they believe that it is required to fulfill their job – identifying irregular or suspicious behavior or other conduct."

For his part, Justice Stein issued a dissenting opinion saying that he found no basis in Knesset statutes justifying a police officer demanding identification, other than in specific circumstances. He cited as an example emergency coronavirus health provisions that do so.

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