Israel Police Unveil New Rules to Avert Racism in Identity Checks

Israelis of Ethiopian origin say they are often asked to show ID for no reason ■ New directives stop short of threatening punishment for deviating from procedure

Police at 2015 demonstration by Ethiopian Israelis against police violence.
Tomer Appelbaum

More than two years after a report was issued addressing complaints about racism against Israelis of Ethiopian origin, the police have released directives requiring them to have grounds of “suspicious behavior” to demand to see ID.

But the rules stop short of threatening punishment for deviating from proper procedure.

The rules were issued after lengthy discussions between the police and the Justice Ministry, including its director general, Emi Palmor. The two sides found that many criminal files opened against Ethiopian Israelis were over altercations sparked by the police asking for identification.

Israeli law does not require the police to have grounds for suspicion to request to see ID.

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But officers have now been told to confine such requests to instances “where they believe it is necessary for the execution of their duty, on the basis of unusual or suspicious behavior.”

The rules also require the police to behave “politely and businesslike,” and to treat everyone equally, “stressing an absence of discrimination regarding religion, race, ethnic origin, nationality, gender or sexual preference.”

The process must also “not last beyond a few minutes,” and any unusual complaints regarding the use of the identification procedure must be reported to the Justice Ministry.

The rules are aimed at avoiding any arbitrariness “and to ensure equal application,” the ministry told Haaretz.

A senior law enforcement official added that the new rules were the latest step in “preventing racism, fighting the phenomenon of profiling and bolstering the equality of all our citizens.”

But an attorney for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Anne Suciu, said the change was too vague.

“Unfortunately the new procedure does not set clear parameters to prevent the abuse of this authority ... it even allows that a failure to provide ID is a criminal violation for which you may be arrested,” she said.

“The proper thing would be to confine police use of this authority only to cases where there is suspicion of a crime.”