Shlomo Toren
Shlomo Toren

In Israel, #AllLivesMatter

The latest media brouhaha with  Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich and the Ethiopian community in Israel should be causing Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman to chuckle. He could use the case to sell his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

On Tuesday evening, Alsheich spoke before a gathering of the Israeli Bar Association and admitted that often Israeli police profile or focus unduly on Ethiopian youth in their efforts reduce juvenile delinquency in Israel. The press had a field day.  “Police chief: It’s ‘natural’ to suspect Ethiopians, Arabs more than others” blared the headlines.  “Alsheich must resign” cried the spokeswoman of the The Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews.“Not only is the commissioner failing to deal with police violence toward the Ethiopian community, he is encouraging it,” raged Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli. The only problem:  That isn’t  really what Alsheich said.

What he did say was that the Israel Police had  been in error in not dealing with the biases of policemen who are overly ardent in their dealings with the Ethiopian community and that the Israeli police was taking concrete steps to deal with that. Amongst the various proposals, cancellation of charges against suspects  when there is a likelihood that the charges resulted from “over policing”.

When addressing accusations of violence against members of the Ethiopian community, Alshich emphasized, “Ethiopian immigrants are Jews. In all the studies in the world, migrants are more involved in crime than the general population, and I am including with that the Arabs. When a policeman meets a suspect, his mind suspects him more, and that is natural. We have started to take care of this, and there is plan which works closely with community leaders to reduce their involvement in crime.”

I am for closing cases where there is friction, and which don’t include any serious crimes,” Alshich continued on his plans to improve relations between the police and the Ethiopian community. “The confidence descendants of Ethiopia have in the police is rising, and I am happy that there is leadership in the community. The goal is to reduce crime, not fill the jails.”  –   IsraelNationalNews  30.08.16

So what happened? Kahneman discusses in his book about the differences  between two modes of thought: “System 1”  which is fast, instinctive and emotional;  and “System 2” which is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.  Profiling is an example of  system 1 thinking. Rather than examine whether a suspect is truly a threat, the policemen act rather on their own biases many times overstepping the boundaries that should regulate police behaviour. Another example of type 1  thinking would be the headlines and the denunciations in response to what Alsheich’s speech, in the most part distorting what was said and  selectively  highlighting  a phrase taken out of context.

If system 2 thinking is an essay, then  system 1 is barely fit for Twitter.

As for the loaded question of whether the Israel Police is racist or that Israeli society, as a whole, is racist, the jury is still out  but I tend to reject that claim.  I was already an Israeli citizen after my army service when the first Ethiopians arrived in Operation Moses in 1984. The country was truly enthralled by the story and many volunteered to aid in their absorption. Since then tens of thousands of Beta Yisrael and Falash Mura have been repatriated to  Israel.  If Israel was really a racist country, no one would have bothered to spend the time, effort and resources to bring so many people to Israel.

As for the police, undoubtedly there are many policemen that might be racist, but the organization, as a whole, is not. Many  post army men and women of the Ethiopian community are now policemen themselves. If the police have a problem it is systematic and long festering : lack of oversight and violent policemen.

And that should, hopefully, be the focus of Alsheich in the coming years: to deal with the use of unwarranted force against all suspects and to make internal police investigations transparent in order to weed out of the force all those who flaunt the rules.

Exaggerated? Not at all. As a “settler” I can relate endless horror stories of police violence against demonstrators from the demonstrations against Oslo, to Kfar Maimon to Amona. People, children even, crippled by police blows and the case against the policemen dropped for “lack of interest”. Girls, some as young as 13 or fourteen held in detention for weeks, some dealt with little regard to their suspect’s rights.  As for taser use, or more accurately miss use, what is needed is not a policy of how tasers are used against members of the Arab or Ethiopian communities, but rather there is a need to make sure that no one gets tasered unnecessarily.

No, Israel isn’t the United States and the  Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel are not   similar to the inner city minorities in the US either. With all the problems the Ethiopian community faces ( and there are many), they are our flesh and blood and we all must do what we can to absorb them as equals.  The best way to do it, is to solve the problems that all of us face whether it is a violent policeman, or bigotry on the basis of race, religion or place of residence.  For in Israel,  #AllLivesMatter, or at least they should.

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.