Shocked by nightly scenes on television of clashes between police and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) lawbreakers, as well as by ongoing reports of violence and murder in the Arab community, President Reuven Rivlin met Sunday with incoming-Police Insp.-Gen OC Border Police Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Shabtai to discuss the severity or lack of it in law enforcement.
“We trust you to enforce rules with wisdom and sensitivity,” Rivlin said. “You are the police commissioner of all Israelis – Jews and Arabs. You are responsible for public order for all of us.” He thanked acting Insp.-Gen. Motti Cohen for filling the position the past two years.
Referring to recent events, Rivlin asked that all police officers demonstrate patience, tolerance and compassion, while making it clear that there will be no tolerance for violence or those who incite it from any sector of Israeli society.
While the police must carry out government decisions regarding efforts to contain the coronavirus, there must at the same time be sensitivity toward the feelings and needs of the public, he said.
During this time of tension, democracy needs to prove itself, Rivlin said. “I know this is not always easy,” he said, adding that the nation is fortunate to have someone like Shabtai as head of the police force.
Shabtai said he sees his role as a mission on behalf of the people of Israel and promised to do everything within his power to bridge gaps and overcome deficiencies in society.
Unlike the larger haredi community, extremist groups within it have consistently defied Health Ministry regulations by holding large-scale weddings, mass synagogue services, Talmud Torah classes and in many cases disdaining the use of masks. Some have pelted police with rocks, pipes, eggs and garbage.
The so-called hilltop youth, who belong to the extreme elements of the National-Religious sector, have protested violently against the police and attacked Arabs.
In the Arab communities, in addition to armed criminals who create fear among law-abiding citizens, there are feuding families who believe in the ancient eye-for-an-eye method of vengeance and are killing off each other’s young men and women.
Arab mayors have repeatedly asked for additional law enforcement in their cities, but police have been slow to act.
Every year, since the days of former president Moshe Katsav – who introduced an annual presidential Iftar dinner for religious and lay leaders of Arab communities, as well as diplomats from Muslim countries – Arab speakers, both religious and secular, have complained of the violence in their communities and have requested greater police intervention.
Although more Arabs have been integrated into the police force in recent years, the violence has not abated.