Ethiopian Israelis Still Over-policed, State Watchdog Finds, With Youth Bearing the Brunt

The police must 'act to eradicate' racism and racial profiling, Israel's state comptroller concludes, in a report pointing to a worsening situation despite a declared objective to rebuild trust

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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An Ethiopian arrested by Israel Police, two years ago.
An Ethiopian arrested by Israel Police, two years ago.Credit: Nir Keidar
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Ethiopian Israelis are being over-policed despite the forces' commitment to build trust and strengthen ties with the community, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman notes in his annual report published Wednesday.

Police statistics show the number of minors of Ethiopian descent investigated by the force in 2019 was 3.8 times higher than their share in the population, which stands at 1.7 percent. This figure marks a new high after a special report, published in 2016, concluded that in 2014 the number stood at 3.5 times higher than their share in the population.

“The numbers point to over-policing of this community,” Englman writes in the report, “and show particularly high numbers for minors.” The police must “act to eradicate racism, over-policing and [racial] profiling ... in order for Israeli citizens of Ethiopian descent to feel themselves to be equal among equals,” he added.

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In addition, the number of arrests that led to an indictment is significantly higher among Ethiopian. For example, in 2018, 67.7 percent of all arrests of Ethiopian minors led to an indictment, compared to 46.3 percent among minors in Israel.

Out of all minors in Israel indicted in 2018, 14 percent were of Ethiopian descent. Numbers were relatively high for adults as well with 6.9 percent of all adults indicted in 2018 were Ethiopians.

The statistics show "substantial gaps," Englman writes, that may indicate racial bias by the prosecution too.

The report also indicates that since 2015 the rate of juveniles of Ethiopian descent arrested declined from 9.7 percent to 5.6 percent in 2019.

'Fall between the cracks'

While the report notes several disturbing trends, a particularly unsettling one is that minors of Ethiopian descent are not even aware of the criminal proceedings against them. Practically, these proceedings can prevent the teens from being drafted into the army.

“They do not know the status of their case and sometimes in the absence of motivation, ability or support, they are unable to act to close the case in order to facilitate their enlistment,” Englman wrote.

Englman argues that many of these teens may “fall between the cracks” and lose “an opportunity to better integrate into society,” because some of these proceedings can be closed.

The report also harshly criticizes the police for mishandling its program to build trust between the force and the Ethiopian community in Israel. Englman wrote that the police neglected the program, in part because its implementation was assigned to several units, and some of the senior officers who were leading it were reassigned. “Currently, there is no entity in the police that oversees all aspects of the force’s conduct vis-à-vis Israelis of Ethiopian origin,” the comptroller wrote.

Israel Police said in response: "In recent years, police recognized rifts with the [Ethiopian] community, thus a wide variety of actions to strengthen ties and resolve difficulties were taken." Over the past week, police established a new unit that will oversee this issue, the statement added.

"In recent years, actions and initiatives by the police in the matter have produced positive outcomes, such as addressing the issue of over-policing, closing criminal proceedings against minors, facilitating a dialogue with community heads, and more."

Moreover, "The fight against crime – from investigating to arresting using different enforcement measures – is conducted impartially and without involving the suspect's ethnicity," the statement added.

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