Are police getting away with brutality against Ethiopians?

“There is no [Ethiopian] Israeli family who has not experienced discrimination or been pursued by the police,” said Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews CEO Ziva Mikonen Dago.

May 24, 2018 10:01
2 minute read.
ISRAEL POLICE detain a protester during a 2015 anti-racism demonstration in Tel Aviv.

ISRAEL POLICE detain a protester during a 2015 anti-racism demonstration in Tel Aviv.. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

A Knesset committee held a spirited debate on Tuesday about whether the Police Investigations Department is letting officers off the hook too quickly when accusations of brutality arise, especially from Ethiopians and other minorities.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee was discussing a bill that would mandate the PID take more time and dig more deeply before closing cases in which police have been accused of beating or unjustifiably attacking members of such groups.

Various groups have claimed the PID runs a lightning-fast process in which it closes most cases against police within an unreasonably fast time and with an insufficient chance to fully examine all the evidence and question the relevant witnesses.

PID critics have said this process is set up to whitewash allegations against police for brutality and that the absence of an effective right to appeal PID decisions to close files undermines the integrity of the process.

Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews CEO Ziva Mikonen Dago said, “If there is an Ethiopian-Israeli offender, he needs to pay a price like anyone else. The problem is that they are immediately changed to suspects by Israeli society. There is no [Ethiopian] Israeli family who has not experienced discrimination or been pursued by the police.”

She added that in 2015, Ethiopians were implicated in altercations with police six times more often than other Israelis.

The PID responded by saying there is no set amount of time for probing allegations against police, and that some cases might be probed for months or more than a year.

A PID representative said if some cases are handled quickly, it is often because the person making the complaint, often a protester, has charges pending against himself – often for attacking a policeman or for public disorder.

In this case, the representative said, the PID and the state prosecution prefer to first quickly clarify whether there was police misconduct or whether the main issue is the alleged crimes of attacking the policeman and public disorder.

The official added that sometimes police must use force to restrain a protester who has gotten out of line, and to fellow protesters, such use of force might appear to be brutality when in fact it is merely enforcing the law.

Further, the official rejected allegations that there is no right to appeal a PID decision to close cases against police officers, saying there is a right to appeal to a Justice Ministry appeals department.

Tackling the PID response, MKs Dov Henin of the Joint List and Michal Rozen of Meretz accused the PID of being blind to the racism in its midst and among police.

They said numerous public examples have proven that police brutality against Ethiopians, Arabs and other minorities is an ongoing phenomenon which must be proactively combated by the PID far more aggressively than it is doing currently.

An official from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) said while there is formally a right to appeal, in practice, the PID virtually always refuses to give complainants any of the case file or its reasons for closing the case, claiming it cannot share these materials until the prosecution’s case against the complainant has been concluded.

In essence, the PCATI is claiming the PID restricts complainants in such a way as to encourage the filing of empty appeals that have no chance of success.

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