Government anti-racism head asks IDF to appoint special officer

Attorney Oka Zana approached IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Eisenkot following several severe incidents of racism towards minorities in the military.

AN ETHIOPIAN PROTESTER shouts at a policeman during a demonstration in Tel Aviv against what protesters say is police racism and brutality. (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
AN ETHIOPIAN PROTESTER shouts at a policeman during a demonstration in Tel Aviv against what protesters say is police racism and brutality.
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
The Head of the governmental unit for coordinating the struggle against racism has asked IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot to appoint an officer to prevent discrimination and racism in Israel’s military.
According to a statement released by the Ministry of Justice, Attorney Oka (Kobi) Zana approached Eisenkot following several incidents in which soldiers were injured or humiliated following racially-based incidents.
“I invite the IDF to appoint an official who will lead, along with us, measures to prevent racism and discrimination,” Zana wrote to Eisenkot according to the statement.
In early December, a Druze soldier in the Israel Air Force told Kan public broadcaster that he was the victim of racist bullying and abuse by his comrades and commanders.
The soldier – known as “M” – recounted his abuse and said that he was now being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder after his fellow soldiers regularly called him a “terrorist” or “Arab dog.”
According to “M” his fellow soldiers would not allow him to eat with them or enter their rooms, would throw rocks at his window when he was sleeping and turned off the water in the bathroom while he was showering.
“M,” who suffers from a speech impediment, also alleged that female soldiers warned him that if he would report the abuse they would tell commanders that he was sexually assaulting them. “M” told Kan that when he went to his commander to report the abuse by his fellow soldiers, the commander said: “Get out of here, Arab, I’m busy right now.”
While the IDF confirmed that “M” had been the victim of racist abuse, Zana said on Tuesday that “it is necessary to examine significant steps, not only with respect to the concrete case, but also with broad consideration for changing policy regarding treatment of racist incidents in the IDF.”
 Regarding an event published last week, Zana writes: “I ask you to conduct an investigation [into] the circumstances of the incident – and in accordance with the findings, to take action to bring the [perpertrators] to justice and to initiate processes to prevent such cases in the future.”
Last year another Druze soldier was beaten unconscious by two other soldiers on his base when he refused their request to switch sleeping quarters.
The two soldiers were indicted and charged with assault causing serious injury under aggravated circumstances, after an investigation by the IDF’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID).
According to the indictment, the two soldiers beat the Druze soldier in two separate incidents, reportedly after he complained after the first beating, leaving him with a bleeding and broken nose. Following the beatings, he required medical treatment and prolonged sick leave.
A June report by IDF Ombudsman, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick found for a second year in a row that there has been an increase in complaints by IDF soldiers to the Defense Ministry, especially in terms of abusive and racist behavior by commanders.
The report, Brick wrote, “presents a disturbing picture of the organizational culture in the army.”
In addition to the “abusive, contemptuous and racist attitude of commanders – including non-junior commanders – toward their subordinates,” there was also a significant drop in the number of people from minority groups in command courses “due to inadequate treatment of issues related to their service.”
It is “the duty of commanders to act responsibly. It is the duty and responsibility of every commander in the IDF to protect the rights, dignity and well-being of his subordinates,” he wrote, adding that a message must be sent warning that “any extreme and improper conduct will be dealt with in full severity, in order to restore the soldiers’ trust in the military establishment and its commanders.”
According to the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit the military has assessed Zana’s request and will examine the proposals it raised and responds directly to him.
“The IDF, as an army of the state, attaches great importance to maintaining the dignity of its soldiers, in the spirit of IDF values. There is a zero tolerance policy against causing injury to a soldier on the basis of racism, or for any other improper reason, and this is embedded in the command and educational activities of the various units,” the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement given to The Jerusalem Post.
“The case in question was also addressed and dealt with on the command level in a profound and determined manner, while passing a strong and clear message on the matter,” the military said referring to the abused soldier.