ETHIOPIAN-ISRAELIS block a road as they protest against what they say is police racism and brutality, near the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon on May 7, 2015..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
More than two years after Israelis of Ethiopian descent took to the streets of Tel Aviv to protests discrimination and police brutality, and a year after the Justice Ministry released a report on how to fight racism, good-governance NGO the Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel found most of its recommendations remain unimplemented.
But MK Avraham Neguise of the Likud, chairman of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee and the only current lawmaker of Ethiopian descent, says the government has made strides that the numbers don’t reflect.
The government adopted the Palmor Report on reducing racism against Israelis of Ethiopian descent, including 22 recommendations that were supposed to be implemented by the end of March – 17 of which have yet to be enacted, the Citizens Empowerment Center found.
Among the things that have not yet been done are conducting a poll among civil servants to detect problems of a discriminatory organizational climate, providing incentives for schools to have students do projects based on dealing with racism, and producing public service announcements to fight racism against Ethiopian-Israelis. The recommendations that were implemented include keeping track of the implementation, and creating a system for receiving and directing complaints of racism.
In a letter, the Citizens Empowerment Center, Tameretch – The Forum for City Council Members of Ethiopian Origin, and Shatil, the New Israel Fund’s operating arm, sent to relevant government offices, they said “delaying the set schedule could lead to the undermining of the community of Ethiopian origin’s trust and will create doubts about [the plan’s] possible success in light of the failures of past, similar plans.”
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Neguise, whose committee is responsible for overseeing the government’s progress on this and other matters, says a lot has been accomplished, and that all relevant ministries except for Health are working seriously on meeting their commitments.
“I’m sure that with other government plans, as well, not everything happens right away. There are starting stages,” he said.
The lawmaker pointed to the appointment of Awaka Kobi Zaneh to head the unit in the Justice Ministry to fight racism, as an important move.
A major area in which the government has made progress is in combating police brutality.
“I submitted a bill requiring police officers to wear body cameras,” Neguise recounted, “and the Justice Ministry and Public Security Ministry offered that, [instead of passing a law], they would launch a pilot in the field to deal with police brutality against young people of Ethiopian descent.
They bought 150 body cameras, sent officers abroad to learn how to use them, and carried out the pilot in five cities... The police commissioner said the body cameras were revolutionary.”
In November 2016, the police said they would buy body cameras for all officers within two years, and Neguise said he is following progress on the matter. A police spokesman was unable to provide details on the plan’s progress by press time.
Meanwhile, the Likud MK said there is a “serious decrease in police brutality, as well as a significant decline in false complaints by citizens against police officers.”
In addition, the government met its goal for integrating Ethiopian-Israelis with academic degrees in the civil service in 2016, hiring 80, and has already hired 73 this year.
The IDF closed its special programs for soldiers of Ethiopian descent, which had led to their segregation.
Neguise pointed out that all the relevant ministries have dedicated funding for fighting racism, including the Education Ministry, which received NIS 162 million, much of which is going to training and hiring teachers of Ethiopian descent. The ministry is supposed to hire 300 teachers in four years, and 250 of them are already in training.
The one ministry Neguise singled out for criticism was the Health Ministry, which he said was dragging its feet in implementing public health programs and others for the community that would allay discrimination against them.
“Have we succeeded in reducing the number of events in the matter of discrimination and racism?” Neguise asked. “We haven’t measured yet, so I don’t have numbers. But what was reported to us is that government ministries have started working.”