Under fire, police chief feels he was ‘ambushed by activists’ in Ethiopian dispute

Roni Alsheich believes he is being deliberately misrepresented, after remarks about it being ‘natural’ for cops to suspect Ethiopians spark calls for him to go

Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich speaks in Tel Aviv on August 30, 2016 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich speaks in Tel Aviv on August 30, 2016 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israel’s chief of police Roni Alsheich reportedly considers those who instigated a major disruption between himself and the Ethiopian-Israeli community to be the kind of people whose ideology is to “crumble the social texture of the country,” Channel 2 reported on Wednesday.

Alsheich drew widespread condemnation after he appeared, in a speech on Tuesday, to say that it was “natural” for law-enforcement officers to be more suspicious of recent immigrants, including Ethiopian-Israelis, than of other citizens.

Leading Ethiopian-Israeli social activists called for the police chief to hand in his badge Wednesday morning, saying his remarks “proved that the police endanger the community.”

In comments made in private conversations Wednesday and then reported by Channel 2, Alsheich allegedly charged that the activists “ambushed me. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was one of those who spend their whole lives getting members of the [Ethiopian] community out to protests.”

“Their ideology is to crumble the social fabric of the country,” the chief continued. “What bothers me most is the fact that this storm is causing damage to the great efforts that the police are making among the members of that community. It is frustrating, but I have no intention of allowing it to make me depressed or melancholy. It only pushes me to do more, because everything connected to our efforts to benefit the members of the [Ethiopian] community is pure Zionism.”

On Tuesday, in response 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.

He noted the police have been working together with leaders in the Ethiopian-Israeli community in a bid to curb the resulting “over-policing,” in which officers unjustly focus on members of the community, leading to tension with the community and accusations of racism against police.

Alsheich went on to explain that the Israel Police under his leadership have been working hard to tackle this “natural” discrimination, and said the same phenomenon was evident in previous waves of immigration throughout Israeli history.

Following an outcry over those remarks, police put out a statement later Tuesday saying Alsheich “had no intention of offending Israelis of Ethiopian origin.”

“The remarks were said, openly, with the intention of correcting and improving” the police force, the statement said.

Ethiopian-Israelis have long accused the police of brutality and abuse against members of the 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.

Opposition lawmakers also harshly criticized Alsheich for his remarks, and the umbrella organization of Ethiopian immigrants in Israel demanded he resign.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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