Police chief: Odeh’s comments against Arab servicemen will only boost recruitment

Police force includes 1,232 Muslim officers; Shabtai says: ‘I won’t let anyone smear our Arab officers’

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai speaks during an event held at the National Police Academy in Bnei Brak, April 12, 2022. (Screen grab from video released by Israel Police)
Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai speaks during an event held at the National Police Academy in Bnei Brak, April 12, 2022. (Screen grab from video released by Israel Police)

Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai on Tuesday criticized controversial remarks made by the leader of the Joint List party Ayman Odeh, who on Sunday called on Arab Israelis serving in Israeli security forces to quit as they were “humiliating” their people.

Speaking during a ceremony rewarding exemplary police units at the National Police Academy in the city of Beit Shemesh, the police chief said he didn’t usually comment on statements made by public officials but was compelled to defend Arab Israeli police officers, “our brothers in arms.” He suggested that the Arab lawmaker’s comments would only strengthen the process of recruiting more Arab and Muslim cops.

Shabtai noted that there were currently 745 Christian, 2,120 Druze, and 1,232 Muslim police officers serving in the Israel Police, “who have chosen to take part in protecting Israel’s security.”

“I won’t let anyone smear our Arab police officers,” Shabtai said. “The Israel Police under my command will stand up against anyone wishing to harm it or jeopardize its Israeli identity.”

On Sunday, in a video filmed at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City — a flashpoint area for violence in recent weeks — during the Muslim high-tension holy month of Ramadan, Odeh called on young Arab Israelis serving in Israeli security forces to “throw” away their weapons.

“Young people must not join the occupation forces. I call on the young people who have already joined, who are no more than one percent, a total of a few thousand, whose joining is insulting and humiliating, I call on them — throw the weapons in their face and tell them that our place is not with you. We will not be part of the injustice and the crime,” he said.

His spokeswoman later clarified he was referring only to Arab servicemen in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

His remarks sparked outrage across the political spectrum, including from Arab and left-wing officials.

Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh speaks in a video in which he calls on Arab Israeli police officers to quit, saying they ‘humiliate’ their people on April 10, 2022 (Screencapture/Facebook)

Shabtai said Odeh’s remarks “have no place in public discourse.” He suggested that they could actually lead to more new Arab recruits, saying they “strengthen the process we are actively trying to promote, which is increasing the number of Arab police officers, with an emphasis on Muslim officers.”

Addressing a recent wave of terror attacks that have so far claimed the lives of 14 people, the police chief said such attacks “challenge the entire security establishment, including the Israel Police.”

He said that “terrorists who seek to spread fear, terror and horror, while hurting as many Israelis as they can, are faced with brave and motivated police officers.”

He noted the deadly shooting attack in Bnei Brak that claimed the lives of four civilians and one police officer, Amir Khoury, a Christian Arab, who was hailed as a hero for his part in stopping the Palestinian assailant and preventing more casualties.

Amir Khoury, 32, from Nof Hagalil, a police officer who was killed in a firefight with a terrorist in Bnei Brak on March 29, 2022 (Courtesy of the family)

Addressing Thursday’s deadly shooting attack in Tel Aviv that led to a massive manhunt across the coastal city in an attempt to apprehend the terrorist, Shabtai said: “The images of police officers running around the streets of Tel Aviv with their guns drawn are not common, but a necessity of the situation.”

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