Police launched an investigation and removed several officers from their posts in Kiryat Malachi on Monday, a day after the Kan public broadcaster reported that officers there mocked and disparaged people of Ethiopian origin in a WhatsApp group.
“Following the Kan news investigation on racism toward the Ethiopian community at the Kiryat Malachi police station, a special team that was established to handle the matter decided to immediately transfer from their jobs four police officers who took part in the incident,” a police spokesperson said.
“Some of the officers will also be transferred from their field of activity in the police. At the same time, Southern District Commander Yoram Sofer decided to appoint an officer to investigate the matter,” the statement said.
In one case, a young man of Ethiopian origin was brought to the police station, bloodied and in handcuffs. The investigator ordered one of the officers to call for medical services for a policeman who was also wounded, but for the man who was arrested — “a defense attorney for the son of a whore.”
After photos of the injured detainee, who was arrested during a scuffle with police, were sent to the group, the mockery continued among the officers.
“Looks amazing,” wrote one investigator, with three heart-eyed emojis.
“Yes, a colorful one,” wrote the investigating officer, with an amused face.
“Aww, a scar from the police for life,” wrote an officer in response to a picture of a wound on the arrested man’s body, ending the message with a smirking emoji.
Later, the investigating officer asked for another photo of the detainee, and the investigator replied: “Do you want to hang it up in the office in case you miss him?”
The investigator wrote that “[the detainee] doesn’t want to be photographed, a shy guy.”
The investigating officer replied: “Humble.”
According to the report, there are approximately 30 people of various ranks and jobs in the WhatsApp group in which the conversation took place, and this style of speaking about people of Ethiopian origin is not out of the ordinary.
During demonstrations in July 2019 to protest the death of Solomon Tekah at the hands of an off-duty officer, there were similar messages sent in the group. One investigator reported that people were throwing stones at the police station and that they were “like terrorists.” The investigating officer replied: “Not like — terrorists.”
Among the many protesters was Alef (identified only by the first Hebrew letter of his name), a 19-year-old man of Ethiopian origin who was arrested and the next day released by a judge. The investigating officer announced in the group that Alef had been released, and the investigator replied: “Not bad, he will be arrested again today,” before effectively putting a bounty on the teen’s head: “He is garbage, man. Whoever gets him for something serious will get an award from me.”
Tekah was killed by a police officer in the Haifa neighborhood of Kiryat Haim on June 30. According to the investigation, the off-duty officer, who was with his children, intervened after his wife noticed that some teenagers had taken money from another boy. He then alerted the police hotline of the alleged theft, but the dispatched police car was delayed.
In the interim, according to the investigation, the officer and his family members were pelted with stones, including by Tekah, 19, prompting him to draw his weapon and fire at the ground. The bullet ricocheted and killed Tekah.
Prosecutors said the officer acted negligently by firing at the ground rather than in the air.
The killing of Tekah sparked nationwide protests, some of which turned violent. It immediately drew renewed accusations of police brutality and racism toward Israelis of Ethiopian descent. Days after the shooting, protesters across Israel blocked roads, burned tires, and denounced what they said was systemic discrimination against the community.
When a member of the community was reported missing and it was discussed in the group, the investigating officer wrote: “‘Missing’ — not so bad to be missing a bit.”
When one of the officers in the WhatsApp group tries to stop the offensive language and dismissive tone against people of Ethiopian origin, he was quickly told not to interfere: “Quite often you have been told that this is not the forum for you to preach morality and criticize everyone here.”
In an initial response to the report, the Israel Police said: “We see all statements of this kind as not representative of the force’s values and the dedicated work of the police for the entire population of the area.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is responsible for policing, issued a statement condemning the actions of the police officers and calling for disciplinary action.
“I spoke to the chief of police about the revelations of racism toward those of Ethiopian origin exposed at the Kiryat Malachi police station and made it clear that I require serious and immediate disciplinary measures against anyone who showed racist and humiliating behavior. There is no room for such discourse from Israel Police officers” Erdan said.
Pnina Tamano-Shata, an Ethiopian-born MK for the Blue and White party, also responded to the report.
“The Israeli government cannot say it did not see and did not hear the crime committed against Ethiopian youth, which is a stain on and cloud over the whole of Israeli society,” Tamano-Shata wrote.
“The group of racist police who were exposed in Kiryat Malachi should be kicked out of the police immediately and stand trial,” she said.
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich added his voice to the criticism.
“This disgusting and criminal culture is completely unacceptable,” Smotrich wrote on Twitter.
“The contempt, humiliation, abuse of power and willingness to put a person in custody simply because ‘he is annoying’ — and this is from people who hold so much power and authority over each and every one of us — are just scary,” he added. “I wish we could believe that this is an isolated and unrepresentative case.”