Police allegedly stopped only 'Ethiopian' drivers

Witnesses tell Post dozens of drivers of Ethiopian descent pulled over only because of skin color.

ethiopian protest 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ethiopian protest 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Dozens of drivers of Ethiopian descent were pulled over by police and breathalyzed in Ashdod last week only because of the color of their skin, a number of witnesses told The Jerusalem Post Monday. The incident took place after a bar mitzva celebration that lasted until about 2 a.m., and which attracted some 1,200 guests from across the country, mostly Ethiopian Israelis. Asher Tziyun, a public-sector worker from Ashdod, described leaving the event and seeing a large number of police vehicles on the road leading to Highway 4. "I thought there was a terrorist attack," he said. "They stopped each Ethiopian driver and breathalyzed them. I felt humiliated - they did not check any white drivers. I support police checks for drunk drivers, but this was much more than that. Police conduct here was based on race. I've been in the country for 30 years, and I've never felt that I don't belong before this." Tziyun described the conduct of officers as "hostile and humiliating. They had a lack of respect, but what was the crime?" he asked. Tziyun's description was supported by Yisrael Beyene, also of Ashdod, who said he was so outraged by what he had experienced that he sent a letter to Public Security Minister Avi Dichter over the incident. "It's simply humiliating," he said. "Everyone who was there had the same feeling. About 100 meters from the event hall, at the entrance to Ashdod, we saw about 10 police cars. Every Thursday and Friday night, we see police employ this tactic outside parties. Many cars were pulled over, but what amazed us is that they only stopped Ethiopians. That really upset us." "Why only us?" Beyene asked. "I witnessed a car with a non-Ethiopian driver being waved on by police after the officer shone his flashlight into the car and saw the driver. I got out and asked the lead officer why this selection was taking place? Her response was demeaning; she ignored my question. I began filming the incident on my cellphone, and I was threatened with arrest for interfering with police work." "I have lived in Israel for 25 years," he added. "This is the only experience that humiliated me. I saw racism." Uri Beru, of Netanya, was breathalyzed by police. "I say, do the test, no problem," he said. "But why, after I passed it the first time, was I asked to do it again? Police said the device wasn't working, so they asked me to blow into a second device. I complied, but then they told me that, too, wasn't working. They brought in a special device. Then I was asked to walk outside of the car with my eyes closed for 30 meters. "I was seriously delayed, and this was a stressful experience. What really hurt us is that they stopped Ethiopians only. We are Israelis in every way, and we accept the law. But we cannot be given exceptional treatment," Beru said. In response, a spokesman for the Traffic Police said: "These claims are baseless. Since the start of the year, police have pulled over 250,000 drivers and have looked for drunk drivers irrespective of race or gender. Our one aim is to prevent drunk driving." The police targeted areas, not ethnic minorities, the spokesman said, adding: "I totally reject the notion that discrimination took place."