State Panel on Eradicating Racism Against Ethiopian-Israelis Issues 53 Recommendations

Committee offers recommendations to prime minister including equipping police with body cameras, limiting their use of stun guns in areas with many Ethiopian residents and combating racism in government ministries.

Ethiopian Israelis protest in Tel Aviv, July 3, 2016.
Ofer Vaaknin

A committee working on ways to eradicate racism against Israelis of Ethiopian origin recommends equipping police with body cameras and limiting their use of stun guns in areas with many Ethiopian residents.

The report contains 53 recommendations dealing with the areas of law enforcement, welfare, education and employment. The committee – headed by Justice Ministry Director General Emi Palmor – also proposes establishing an employment database of Ethiopian academics, teaching Ethiopian-Jewish traditions in schools and setting up various programs to fight racism, including in government ministries.

The panel submitted its recommendations to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads the ministerial forum for the advancement and integration of Ethiopians.

The report was written primarily in response to protests by the Ethiopian community against police brutality, sparked by the cases of Yosef Salamsa – an Ethiopian youth who committed suicide in 2014 after police used a stun gun on him and left him outside the Zichron Yaakov police station – and the 2015 video of police assaulting soldier Damas Pakada in Bat Yam.

The team presented data showing that 3.5 percent of criminal indictments were filed against Ethiopian Israelis in 2015, more than twice their percentage of the population. Meanwhile, the percentage of indictments filed against Ethiopian minors was four times their ratio of the population. The percentage of Ethiopian minors who end up in prison was nearly 10 times their proportion of the population (comprising 18.5 percent of the inmates in Ofek Prison, as of June 2016).

The committee recommended that a pilot program to equip patrolmen with body cameras should be launched first at police stations in areas with high concentrations of Ethiopian-Israeli residents.

The report also recommended reevaluating police regulations regarding the use of stun guns, “so as to limit their use to instances that justify it.” The team also recommended that the police set clear regulations regarding when policemen should demand that civilians identify themselves.

“One cannot ignore the cumulative social damage that results from the humiliating profiling of law-abiding citizens in unexplained circumstances,” the report said. “The police must find the tools to assure that activities perceived as harassment should be reduced to the minimum necessary.”

The panel also called for raising awareness among both police and civilian prosecutors through briefings that would expound on the exceptional data regarding indictments against Ethiopians.

The report also noted that the percentage of Ethiopian minors referred to the process called conditional treatment – an alternative to a criminal procedure – was significantly lower than the percentage of all minor suspects referred. In 2015, for example, 12.5 percent of Ethiopian minors were referred to this alternative procedure, compared to 27.4 percent of all minor suspects.

In the education realm, the team found a lack of Ethiopian Israelis in top Education Ministry positions and that there were only 308 Ethiopian teachers in the entire school system. There are also three Ethiopian principals, three dormitory directors, eight guidance counselors, four coordinators and only one local education department director. The report recommended that the Education Ministry recruit outstanding Ethiopian teachers and groom them to be principals.

The committee also called for some curriculum changes. “Curricula and textbooks suffer from an underrepresentation of Middle Eastern and North African Jewry in general, and of Ethiopian heritage in particular. Those chapters on the history of Ethiopian Jewry must be updated as part of the history of Eastern Jewry, including the arts and other content that will highlight significant figures from Ethiopian-Jewish culture in various institutions – like the names of schools and streets, etc.” the report noted.

The panel also called for educating toward equality and against racism from preschool: It suggests buying books for preschools that tell stories of boys and girls from various cultures and with different skin colors, and to equip preschools with dolls of different colors.

The committee came to the conclusion that government authorities were going too easy on employees who make racist comments, making do with demanding an apology and inserting a note in the worker’s personal file.

The panel wants to crack down on civil servants who discriminate or make racist remarks that offend either members of the public or subordinates by subjecting violators to disciplinary hearings for improper behavior.

As for employment, the report suggests that the Civil Service Commission set up a database of Ethiopian university graduates in a number of fields to make it easier to recruit them for public service jobs. The panel also proposed that the state finance the filing of discrimination lawsuits for the next three years, to encourage such suits to be filed, and to cancel the court fees involved in filing such lawsuits.

The team recommended that every government agency – including the military, police and the Israel Prison Service – appoint an “antiracism and discrimination officer,” who would answer to a coordinating unit in the Justice Ministry. Their job would be to coordinate all issues relating to racism and racist discrimination in the agency, and be the address for complaints about discriminatory or racist remarks-behavior against employees or the public.

The team found that Ethiopians are underrepresented in the media, and suggested setting up a broadcast channel, or at least regular programming on an existing Israeli channel, “In which there will be a significant, positive presence of Ethiopians in terms of the extent of the representation and its quality.”

This channel or programming “would broadcast in Hebrew, and would be a broad platform and address for presenting varied, quality television content that focuses on the Israeli-Ethiopian experience,” the report said. The culture and communications ministries should conduct periodic in-depth surveys to examine the representation of Ethiopian Israelis, it added.

The panel also said that there’s a need for public service broadcasts that would promote messages against racism.