Police deny racism charge after Ethiopian cleaner fired

MK Molla calls for urgent probe of officer's remarks.

ethiopian protest 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ethiopian protest 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) plans to call an urgent meeting of the Knesset this week to discuss what he said were racist remarks made by the Israel Police's deputy traffic commander. Asst.-Cmdr. Rafi Peled had complained over a "bad smell" left in his office by an Ethiopian cleaning woman, prompting her dismissal. "The bad smell comes from the police, and it is the smell of racism," Molla said Sunday in a statement. "Interior Minister Avi Dichter must conduct an urgent check to uproot racist weeds from within the police." "This is racist, inappropriate behavior, and I expect the Knesset to address it this week," Molla told The Jerusalem Post. Describing Peled as "vitriolic," Molla said "every person has the right to be treated with dignity. Peled wouldn't have said what he said if she were not Ethiopian. "This cannot be ignored - I expect the interior minister to take action. A high-ranking police officer should be 10 times more cautious, and the fact that this comment came from someone of Peled's stature makes it much more severe," Molla said. Speaking to the Post, a police spokesman vigorously denied that racism stood behind Peled's remarks and the firing of the cleaning woman. "The whole claim that Peled's comments had anything to do with the cleaner's Ethiopian origins is totally baseless. He was talking about the level of cleanliness in his office," spokesman Doron Ben-Amo said. Stressing that Peled "does not fire any cleaner," Ben-Amo said the contractor took the decision to sack the woman after receiving the complaint, adding that "so far two workers have been fired for less than acceptable levels of service, and this has no connection to their ethnic origins. "They could be white, Ashkenazi, Ethiopian, or anything else. Unfortunately, this has been allowed to get out of hand," Ben-Amo said. "The claim of a smell was about the room, not her personally. If you use an unclean sponge to mop up, that can result in an odor. The whole racism charge is real nonsense." Stressing that Peled had promoted an Ethiopian police office to a senior position and that he encouraged Ethiopian Israelis to join the police force in greater numbers, Ben-Amo said that "Peled is the last person who should be accused of being a racist." "She [the cleaning woman] may have taken this personally," he added. But those explanations were dismissed by Molla, who said: "If this wouldn't have reached the press, Peled wouldn't be trying to sweep it under the carpet. It's simply not true that racism isn't behind this." Avi Masfin, spokesman for the Israeli Association of Ethiopian Jews, told the Post that he too was not certain that racism played no role in the incident. "This is a very strange case," he said. "I'm not familiar with all of the details, but I hope that this isn't about the smell of discrimination." "It's likely she didn't clean only Peled's office, and yet only he found cause for complaint about a smell," Masfin added.