Police Chief Roni Alsheich at the Israel Bar Association Conference at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: NAAMA COHEN FRIEDMAN/ BAR ASSOCIATION SPOKESWOMAN)
The Israel Police on Wednesday sought to hamper criticism of Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich’s controversial remarks regarding policing of Ethiopian Israelis, amid demands emanating from the Ethiopian-Israeli community for an apology and the top cop’s resignation.
Alsheich has not retracted the comments, but instead sought to clarify them.
On Tuesday he said that some officers are “naturally” suspicious of Ethiopian Israelis. “When a policeman meets a suspect [of Ethiopian descent or other groups with higher crime rates], naturally he is more suspicious than with others. We know this. We have started to deal with this,” Alsheich said at the Israel Bar Association Conference in Tel Aviv, causing an uproar among Ethiopian Israelis and some MKs.
On Wednesday, Alsheich spoke with Ziva Mekonen-Degu, the executive director of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, seeking to clarify his comments. “When there is an increase in crime there is over-policing.
When a police officer sees an Ethiopian he translates the color of the skin so anyone who walks down the street is a suspect, and we are educating the officers how to deal with this,” Alsheich said during the meeting, Walla reported.
Alsheich continued, comparing the issue of over-policing facing Israelis of Ethiopian decent to policing issues that faced other Israeli communities. “This process is what we went through with the waves of immigration in Israel.
Many have forgotten what we went through with the Yemenites, with the Russians, the Moroccans and those from the Caucasus,” he said. “What occurs today with the community of Ethiopian descent happened with all the immigrant communities,” Walla reported.
A police spokesman told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday in an emailed statement that Alsheich’s comments from the previous day referred to “a phenomena accompanied by all waves of immigration to Israel that are a part of the process of socialization with the society.”
Despite attempted clarifications, many in the Ethiopian-Israeli community are still not satisfied.
In a statement on Wednesday, MK Avraham Neguise called for Alsheich to issue an apology. “The police commissioner’s words again raised the lack of trust between the community and police. Although he called and told me what he meant, once again I urge the police commissioner to stand up and apologize to the community and the Israeli society,” Neguise said.
Hana Elazar Legesse, spokeswoman for the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, called Mekonen-Degu’s conversation with Alsheich “terrible” because the police chief did not retract his offensive statement.
“It is a pity that [Alsheich] continues to whitewash and continues to expound his beliefs; we are not immigrants, we are citizens of Israel,” she said. “This is a huge problem because a man who stands in such a significant position cannot be able to say these things – he needs to resign.”
Police spokeswoman Merav Lapidot appeared on Channel 10’s morning show and said that Ethiopian- Israeli youth are seen “just like our kids.” Lapidot contended that Alsheich’s statements were misunderstood.
“The police chief says that if there is a problem in understanding the message it was probably delivered the wrong way,” said Lapidot.
Police had issued a clarification a few hours after Alsheich’s statement saying that the comments “had no intention to harm Israelis of Ethiopian origin,” but were meant to improve police efforts in Ethiopian communities.
The police are also taking responsibility for “over-policing” in the communities.
“In the 26 police stations located in communities of Ethiopian-Israelis we teach officers differently, they take responsibility and review the case files for years back. In places where an Ethiopian youth has a single offense of insulting an officer or obstructing an officer in the line of duty we throw out the cases; that’s [those cases] over-policing,” Lapidot said.
“After a thorough self-examination we found that indeed there is over-policing with regards to officers and the Ethiopian community,” the police said in their clarification of Alsheich’s comments.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan backed the commissioner in a statement on Tuesday. “The police chief did not justify the phenomenon of over-policing against Israelis of Ethiopian origin. He did just the opposite. He said boldly that there is such a problem and the police are taking care of it,” Erdan said.
In spring 2015, thousands of Ethiopian Israelis took to the streets protesting racism and police brutality, leading to the formation of an interministerial task force that sought to address racism towards Ethiopian Israelis. The committee released a 170-page report with 53 recommendations for government offices, including the police, in July 2016.