The latest chapter in an ongoing dispute between police and the Ethiopian immigrant community over alleged police racism took a new turn Wednesday when combat reserve soldiers from the community declared that they would not turn up for duty.
“We’re sick of the state’s demand that we continue to honor a contract according to which we are citizens with obligations but not rights,” the reservists wrote to the army’s chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, according to a Channel 10 report.
Signatories to the letter include fighters from the Golani, Givati and paratroop brigades as well as elite units such as Maglan, which specializes in top-secret operations behind enemy lines.
“We will be expressing our discomfort through organized actions of civil disobedience, the first of which will be our refusal to report for reserve duty,” they wrote.
The move comes in the wake of a speech made by Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich on Tuesday in which he said that it was “natural” for law-enforcement officers to be more suspicious of recent immigrants, including Ethiopian-Israelis, than of other citizens.
Responding to a question about persistent accusations of police brutality and racial discrimination against Ethiopian-Israelis, Alsheich told a gathering of the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv that “studies the world over, without exception, have shown that immigrants are more involved in crime than others, and this should not come as a surprise.”
“When a police officer comes across a suspicious person [who is either young or from an immigrant background, or both], his brain naturally suspects him more than if [the suspect] were someone else,” he continued, emphasizing that anti-Ethiopian bias among officers “is natural” due to statistics linking immigrant communities to higher crime rates.”
As the reservists submitted their letter of protest to the army, Channel 10 quoted figures revealing that during Alsheich’s tenure as top cop, the number of cases against Ethiopian-Israelis has gone down.
Both Alscheich and a senior source from the Public Security Ministry of — the latter quoted by Channel 10 — have insisted that a small group of agitators, not necessarily from within the community, are responsible for the stoking the conflict and causing “huge damage.”
It was not immediately clear how the army would respond to the reservists’ protest and whether the soldiers would be punished.
Ethiopian-Israelis have long accused the police of brutality and abuse against members of their community. Last year, the community staged a series of mass demonstrations across the country, triggered by video footage showing a seemingly unprovoked police assault on an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier last April.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.