Public Security, Justice Ministers Snub Meeting of Police Brutality Lobby in Knesset

Lobby wrongs hard-working police, says Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan; it isn't the police's job to punish, says lobby founder Ilan Gilon of Meretz

At an ultra-Orthodox protest against the draft, Nov 29, 2017
Olivier Fitoussi

The Israeli public security and justice ministers boycotted the first session of the lobby to combat police brutality, which met at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on Monday. The lobby is led by Meretz lawmaker Ilan Gilon. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also forbade representatives of the police or of the Internal Investigation division of the Justice Ministry to attend the meeting.

Over the weekend Erdan wrote to the lobby's founder, Gilon, that the debate the lobby seeks to advance "does wrong to the tens of thousands of police officers in Israel who protect the people. You, as an elected official whom I respect, could have been be expected to realize that forming a lobby – which predisposes by the very name you chose that the main issue is police brutality – predetermines the outcome of its debates."

The lobby brings together groups from the whole political spectrum, from minority communities such as the Arabs and Ethiopians, the ultra-Orthodox, LGBTQs, settlers, the disabled, representatives of people slated for eviction from the Tel Aviv neighborhood Givat Amal, and more.

At the meeting on Monday, protesters, their families and representatives of social organizations testified on cases in which police officers allegedly used excessive force.

During the meeting, Banji, the sister of Yosef Salamsa – an Ethiopian who committed suicide in 2014 after abuse by police, his relatives claim – erupted at MK Anat Berko (Likud), who did attend.

Her brother’s case "was neither the first nor the last," Banji Salamsa said. “This case tumbled from the police to the attorney general, to the president himself, and ultimately the case was closed. There are two officers who filed a false report. Are cops allowed to lie? It seems so.”

Salamsa added that the absence of Shaked, Erdan and of Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich was a disgrace: “It just shows us how dangerous the police are, especially to Ethiopian migrants, and that our lives are worthless here.”

MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said the officers who acted violently are “certainly not the exception to the rule and these stories are not unusual. There’s a culture of violence in the police. It’s a disgrace that police representatives, at Erdan’s instruction, didn’t come to listen to the victims.”

Berko answered Jabareen that he and his colleagues take part in the incitement. To which Banji Salamsa responded: “Shut your mouth, nobody murdered your children.”

Berko replied that she had been referring to “their” (Jabareen’s) incitement.

A representative from the Ethiopian Migrants’ Association, Sigal Sapir Mann, presented statistics from 2015 showing that 12% of cases of police brutality had involved people of Ethiopian origin. That is about six times their proportion in the Israeli population.

The data, according to Sapir Mann, shows “institutionalized racism in the police,” adding that “police refused to provide the data for the last two years, claiming that it could harm public wellbeing and security.”

Jafar Farah, the manager of the Mossawa Center for Arab civil rights whom a police officer is suspected of beating in custody, sent a video to the lobby calling it to combat the “culture of lies” in the police.

“The collaboration between the hospitals and the police is sick," Farah said in the clip. "Hospitals need to care for patients, not serve the police.” Farah said the Arab’s society’s distrust of the Israeli police stems from its conduct of lying.

Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) added that “the officers live among their people. They hear the political leadership and the daily incitement," such as accusations by Jewish leaders that Arab parliamentarian Ayman Odeh is a traitor.

Chaya Tubich, an ultra-Orthodox woman from Jerusalem, told how her son was injured during dispersal of a protest using fire hoses. “The water cannon fired a massive jet-stream into his head. You see him in the video. He did two flips in the air, fell back and lost consciousness. The people who came to rescue him got jetted as well. They weren't allowed to rescue him."

At the start of the discussion, and during it as well, Erdan repeated that the lobby members have the "utmost respect for the policemen and policewomen who work day and night for the safety of the people," but added, "The police job is to maintain the law, not to punish people."

and would Interior urge the Interior and Constitutional committee to step up supervision over the Internal Affairs division at the Justice Ministry, and over the police. The committee should demand data on the number of accusations of police brutality, figures on how many cases reach disciplinary action, how many reach criminal action and what the criteria for decisions are.