Opinion |

When a Minister Encourages Police Brutality

Michael Sfard
Michael Sfard
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana speaking at an event in February.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana speaking at an event in February.Credit: Moshe Biton / Sheva  
Michael Sfard
Michael Sfard

“It’s not important where. The same treatment for everyone, that’s what I want. Not discriminatory or different treatment.” No, that’s not Martin Luther King, Jr. That’s Public Security Minister Amir Ohana. And no, he is absolutely not pursuing equality. He is abusing the notion of equality to disseminate hatred, violence and divisiveness, as is his wont.

His remarks during a conversation last week with Acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen, as quoted in the media (and which he didn’t deny), are no less that horrifying. The man responsible for the organization with the most extensive authority to use force against civilians was complaining to Cohen in a manner that implied that his men were not brutalizing the protesters at the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street as they do during demonstrations by Arabs, the ultra-Orthodox and Ethiopian Israelis. If it had been a demonstration by one of those groups, he scolded the police commander, “Is that what it would look like?”

The message from the man who also ordered the police to examine moving the demonstrations to a different location is clear and chilling. We’ve gotten used to Ohana’s scandalous spins. We’ve become accustomed to his Trump-like style, that shocks each time anew with comments that show contempt for basic democratic values, deny fundamental principles like checks and balances between the branches of government and sow and incite hatred. Primarily we’ve become used to the lack of shame with which he serves his master, the one charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, how he homes in on every rival and is prepared to annihilate him. Until recently he was Israel’s justice minister, and now he is public security minister. Indeed, we’ve gotten used to him.

But these recent remarks are in another league entirely. This time the path to bloodshed – actual bloodshed, as in serious injuries or even the deaths of demonstrators – is short and direct. Policemen, officers and Jerusalem police chief Doron Yedid (who even without encouragement from the minister is eager to do battle with those he’s described as “leftist demonstrators”) hear the voices and get the message. Translating the minister’s wishes into fists, batons and bullets (yes, even live bullets) is an almost expected, natural process. According to protesters’ reports, during the demonstration that took place immediately after that conversation, on Thursday evening, police violence reached new levels.

We must call a spade a spade: Ohana’s statements, which he hasn’t denied or retracted, incited violence. This amounts to dangerous, ideological and violent crime and to an abuse of the power of the office he serves. If and when blood is shed at Balfour Street, Ohana will be responsible for it. Not just morally responsible, but criminally liable for suborning to commit a crime, or even for committing it himself through another. I realize that the acting commissioner, in his conversation with the minister, was put in an impossible position, but nevertheless it was his duty to halt the conversation and make it clear to Ohana that his words were an attempt at conspiring to commit a crime.

A protester stands opposite to a policeman during the protest of Ethiopian Israelis, in Tel Aviv, July 2, 2019.Credit: CORINNA KERN/ REUTERS

The Likud and the right have for years made cynical use of the discrimination suffered by minority groups in Israeli society. They tout it as a crime of the left, but never improve the situation. Even in this instance, Ohana broke a party record. From his senior position he could have worked to improve the shameful treatment of demonstrators from minority groups, who suffer the despicable police brutality to which he referred when he spoke to Cohen. Instead he sought to broaden this brutality and direct it at political rivals. It’s like gouging out the eyes of those who can see so that there will be equality between them and the blind. It’s doubtful that the officers at police headquarters have ever experienced such pure evil and burning hatred in such raw form.

I have friends who’ve been demonstrating at Balfour Street. I have a good friend who likes to stand in front of policemen and look deep into their eyes for a period of time, in the hope a human gaze will pierce the violent crust and touch the soul. Let us hope that her humanity and that of other demonstrators will overcome the venomous minister, and that the police, particularly the commanders, will understand that their minister is a dangerous and unscrupulous man, and that black flags are flying not just over the Balfour Street demonstrations but over his patently illegal orders.

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