Police Chief Roni Alsheikh at Bar Association conference
Police Chief Roni Alsheikh at Bar Association conference Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90

The Israel Police clarified on Tuesday evening that Chief Roni Alsheikh did not intend to offend Israelis of Ethiopian origin when he said at a speech at the Bar Association conference that it is “natural” to suspect migrants of crimes – comments which caused a firestorm.

In a statement, the police explained that Alsheikh was referring to studies by criminologists regarding migrant communities around the world.

“The Israel Police devotes careful thought to understanding the gap between police and Ethiopian Israelis in Israel,” the statement said, adding, “The Police Chief candidly admitted that after a thorough self-examination we discovered that indeed there is extra policing when it comes to interactions between officers and Israelis of Ethiopian origin.”

The statement noted that the Israel Police is operating in several ways on this issue.

“We have set up a steering committee which has been working for about a year, together with leaders from the community, to formulate a process that will lead to a better understanding of the community’s needs and coordinate positions. Among other things, we are looking at cases which, to our understanding, are the result of excess policing and, when possible, close those cases retroactively. As well, the Israel Police runs a public relations program about multiculturalism in an attempt to promote tolerance and appropriate treatment at all levels of society,” it said.

“In order to remove any doubt, the comments made by the Police Chief, and which were not quoted accurately in the media, had no intention to offend Israelis of Ethiopian origin,” the statement clarified.

Public Security Minister (Likud) Gilad Erdan backed Alsheikh as well, saying, “The Police Chief did not justify the phenomenon of ‘excess policing’ against Israelis of Ethiopian origin nor did he back it. He did just the opposite. He said boldly that there is such a problem and the police are taking care of it.”

“Ethiopian Israelis are an integral part of Israeli society and the Israel Police and we are working together with community members and leaders to correct the mistakes of the past,” continued Erdan.

“I am personally leading, together with the Police Chief, many changes to address this problem through community learning, absorbing Ethiopians to the police and advancing them, creating transparency mechanisms, disciplinary action and more.”

“The Police Chief's explanation was not meant in any way to justify the excess policing but rather describe what had led officers in the past to operate incorrectly. Any other descriptions of the Chief’s words or reasoning in the opposite direction are incorrect and create difficult feelings without justification. Especially after the police made clear the intention of the Chief once again in its statement,” said Erdan.

“As someone who knows very well the position of the Police Chief and the actions of the police on this issue - I back him and the program that the Israel Police is implementing under his command and in accordance with my policy.”

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