Israel Police can be soft and forgiving, or tough and relentless. It depends who you are.
First requirement is to be a Jew. They play Arabs by a different game.
Then there is are preferences among the Jews.
First up are the handicapped. The kid gloves used with them are sooooo soft.
The Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) are handled a bit harder, but not so much so that they are anywhere close to the Arabs. Or to ordinary folks (e.g., healthy and non-religious Jews) suspected of wrongdoing.
The evidence for all the above has come in recent weeks from a series of demonstrations.
It began with the handicapped, who brought their wheelchairs, other appliances, and loudspeakers to major roads, and tied up traffic to support their demands for larger monthly stipends.
When a substantial slice of the handicapped agreed to accept the government's offer after several weeks of negotiations and traffic jams, a splinter group, calling themselves Handicapped Panthers, have continued the action while demanding even larger stipends.
Prior to the agreement and the split among the handicapped, the police were tolerant in the extreme. They seemed willing to let each incident play itself out, without using even a smidgen of force to clear the road and allow hundreds if not thousands of drivers and bus passengers to get on their way.
With the Handicapped Panthers, the police have been a tiny bit more aggressive. They ticketed the demonstrators and moved them, on occasion, gently. Television crews filmed the demonstrators, saying that they would not pay the fines.
The Haredim have a tradition of demonstrating, but in the present case, seem to be copying the details of the handicapped. A splinter group of the Haredim, who object to going to a recruiting station and picking up the promised certificate of freedom from military service, began doing what the handicapped did. On a recent day they sat in the middle of major highways and on the tracks of Jerusalem's Light Rail, tying things up for hours in traffic that backed up for kilometers and spread through several neighborhoods. At first the police did what they did in the case of the demonstrations by the handicapped, i.e., they advised drivers to take different routes. Theמ they upped the pressure, and arrested some 200 of the young men protesting the need to request an excuse from military service.
However, the majority of those arrested were released without having to spend a night in jail.
When asked about their behavior, police spokespeople talk about avoiding escalation. They seem afraid of evoking too much sympathy in the larger public for the handicapped, or in the ultra-Orthodox community for the splinter Rabbi and his followers who protest the idea of serving in the military, even though they have been assured of exemptions.
It's a mistake to think of the ultra-Orthodox as one group, anywhere close to being united. There are numerous congregations, each with their history, distinctive clothing, and revered senior Rabbis. On this matter, those sitting in the road are an extremist cluster, whose Rabbi may be concerned to raise money from overseas loyalists, by demonstrating that he is more devout than his competitors in resisting the unholy State of Israel.
We've seen a confusing combination of police tolerance on some occasions, despite traffic jams, and police concern on other occasions to clear the streets of the demonstrators. It looks like a bit of this and a bit of that, intended to limit the damage without helping the demonstrators spread their campaign to other groups of the Haredim by claims of police brutality. There are always Rabbis with their eyes on donors who may be enlisted to contribute more.
Should Arabs try something like the handicapped or the Haredim, we'd be counting the demonstrators and police treated for injuries or worse.
The Arabs of Israel are not as bad off as American Blacks with respect to police overreaction. There are cases of formal investigations and punishments of individual police for unnecessary force. When Arabs, even girls as young as 14, have charged with knives upraised, the police are following their manual when they shoot at the mass of the attacker's body. What we lack are fatalities similar to those that have happened to American Blacks, e.g., when they die as a result of failing to use turn signals when changing lanes, or walking brazenly in the middle of a street.
When Israeli security services suspect Arab citizens or Palestinians of involvement in violence against Jews, or having information about others likely to be violent, those suspected can expect interviews more forceful than anything endured by the handicapped or Haredim who block major roads. Arabs who return home from a stint with ISIS can expect several years behind bars.
Israelis generally agree with the actions taken against Arabs for their physical security. It's not so clear how many agree with the softer approach to the handicapped or ultra-Orthodox who block major roads during high traffic times.
We might also consider the police and the Prime Minister, as well as Mrs. Netanyahu. How long should it take for the cops to provide the prosecutor enough material for an indictment? One headline from seven months ago, "Netanyahu Investigation Entering Final Stages."
More than 10 months ago, a report indicated that the police would begin a "criminal investigation" into the Prime Minister, after they had been conducting "inquiries" (a lower level of probing) for a period of nine months.
During this time we've heard of gifts amounting to several hundred thousand dollars in value to Natanyahu and his family, from individuals having an interest in Israeli government actions. The law bars any government official from accepting gifts..There are additional allegations of the Prime Minister pressuring a media tycoon for more favorable coverage, and his role in directing government contracts to suppliers in ways that have been worth millions to close associates.
It took 23 years to move from exposure in a government report through several investigations and finally to court before Ehud Olmert was put in jail.
There are good reasons for not moving too swiftly against an elected head of government. We don't want the Jewish State turning into a police state.
For some more than others, it's a long way from that.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem