Israeli Minister Says Police Chief Didn't Justify Overpolicing Ethiopians

Defending the commissioner, who said it was natural for cops to be more suspicious of Israelis of Ethiopian descent, Minister Gilad Erdan says police are working to mend past mistakes.

Police detain an Israeli of Ethiopian descent during a demonstration against police brutality, July 4, 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan came to the defense of Commissioner Roni Alsheich, who earlier on Tuesday said it was natural for cops to be more suspicious of members of the Israeli-Ethiopian community.

"The police chief didn't justify the overpolicing phenomenon against Israelis of Ethiopian descent," Erdan said later on Tuesday. "He did exactly the opposite."

Speaking at an Israel Bar Association conference, Alsheich said research shows that immigrants and young people are disproportionately involved in crime. “When these two things come together," Alsheich said, "it turns out that a particular community is statistically involved in crime more than others. When a policeman encounters a suspect, [the policeman’s] mind suspects him more than it would if he were someone else.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, August 3, 2016.
Moti Milrod

He acknowledged, however, that the police were late in dealing with the issue of violence involving police and Ethiopian Israelis.

Several high-profile cases involving apparent violent or verbally abusive conduct by the police against Ethiopian Israelis sparked major demonstrations last year.

Erdan said that Alsheich's remarks were an admission of the problem, and an attempt to explain the mindset of cops involved in overpolicing incidents.

"Israelis of Ethiopian descent are an inseparable part of Israeli society and of Israel Police, and we're working together with members of the community and its leaders to mend the past's mistakes," Erdan said.

Alsheich's remarks sparked uproar. Meretz charwoman Zehava Galon said the commissioner must resign, saying that "If the person who heads the police is replicating racist prejudice against the Ethiopian-migrant community, it's not surprising that cops think that its 'natural to suspect them.'"

The head of the Joint List of Arab parties, MK Ayman Odeh, said the police has systematically forsaken disadvantaged minorities, and that therefore he was not surprised by the chief's remarks. "The chief of police should be reminded that his job is to serve and protect the entire citizen body, and not just the white Jewish public," he said. 

The police then issued a statement saying that Alsheich was misquoted by the media, and that he had no intention of harming Israelis of Ethiopian descent. The chief's remarks were meant "meant to allow the correction and improvement of the interfaces between the police and police officers" and Ethiopians," said the statement.

"Israel Police invests deep thinking into understanding the existing rift between officers and Israelis of Ethiopian descent. The chief of police made an honest admission that after deep internal examination we found that there was overpolicing at the interface between cops and members of the Ethiopian community in Israel," said that statement.