Israeli Police Chief Apologizes for Saying It's 'Natural' for Cops to Be Suspicious of Ethiopians

Police commissioner Roni Alsheich had previously said that it was natural for police to suspect Ethiopian youths more than others.

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich during a session of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee.
Emil Salman

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich apologized to Israel's Ethiopian community on Thursday night for an earlier remark that "it is natural for a policeman to suspect an Ethiopian youth more than others."

At a meeting of the joint steering committee of the police and the community leadership, Alsheich made his apology "to the entire Ethiopian community in Israel and to anyone who feels aggrieved by the media reports."

He stressed that his intention had not been to hurt, but to "expose the problem in order to promote agreed solutions," according to a police statement.

The purpose of Thursday night's meeting, which was initiated several weeks ago, according to the police, was to discuss ways of "restraining over-policing and reducing crime among the youth."

The commissioner announced that intensive work on existing criminal files will be undertaken at all police branches to assess "which cases are due to over-policing and to further the closing of files to the greatest extent possible."

He added that the police will work intensively to ensure they have the "appropriate tools to deal with all sectors of Israeli society."

Statistics presented at the meeting showed that the number of criminal cases opened against Ethiopian Israelis has fallen 20 percent in 2016, compared to the previous year.

Alsheich told the Bar Association Conference on Tuesday that "research from around the world indicates without exception that refugees and youth are involved in crime far more than others."

It is only natural, he continued, that when "a policemen meets a suspect, his brain suspects him more than it would if he were someone else."

The commissioner's remarks created a storm. The following day, he was recorded telling an Ethiopian activist that similar processes had occurred with previous waves of immigration.

"People have forgotten what happened here with the Yemenites, with the Moroccans, the Russians and the people from the Caucasus," he said.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan gave his support to the commissioner, saying that he did not justify "the phenomenon of over-policing against Ethiopians," but Alsheich had pointed to the problem and the police were dealing with it.