Ethiopian IDF Soldiers Threaten Civil Disobedience Over Police Chief’s Remarks

YERUSHALAYIM -
Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich during the speech to the Israeli Bar Association which has generated controversy. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich during the speech to the Israeli Bar Association which has generated controversy. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The furor over Israeli Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich’s remarks about Ethiopians continued on Thursday as Ethiopian reserve soldiers said they would refuse to report for duty as an act of civil disobedience, The Times of Israel reported.

Alsheich has denied any racism in his statement at a Bar Association gathering that it was “natural” for lawenforcement officers to be more suspicious of recent immigrants, including Ethiopian-Israelis, than of other citizens.

“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,” he said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there have been demands for his apology or dismissal.

“We’re sick of the state’s demand that we continue to honor a contract according to which we are citizens with obligations but not rights,” the reservists wrote to the army’s chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, according to a local media report.

“We will be expressing our discomfort through organized actions of civil disobedience, the first of which will be our refusal to report for reserve duty,” they wrote. Signatories included members of the Golani, Givati and paratroop brigades as well as elite units such as Maglan. It was not reported how many signed the letter.

The police chief sought to downplay the angry public reaction, which has been headlined in the Israeli media since Tuesday. Both Alscheich and a senior source in the Public Security Ministry maintain that a small group of agitators, not necessarily from within the community, are responsible for magnifying the issue and causing “huge damage.”

The IDF has made no official response to the reservists’ letter.

A meeting was scheduled between Alsheic and representatives from the Ethiopian community on Thursday night in Tel Aviv to calm tensions.

However, Alsheich’s refusal to apologize remained a sore point.

Fantun Asfa-Duyet, director of the Ethiopian advocacy NGO Tebeka, told Ynet that a conciliatory move had been rebuffed.

“I asked the police commissioner to apologize to the community during a personal conversation that he had with me, and I told him that if he says sorry then the story will be put behind us. But instead of doing so, the commissioner said to me that his words had been taken out of context,” said Asfa-Duyet.

Alsheikh has contacted some Ethiopian to clarify his statement, but he saw no reason to apologize.

“I do not intend to say sorry. Indeed, the things that I said and the style in which they were said were perhaps not the best but I feel that I am being ambushed,” he is reported to have said. “I am not in a depression but I believe that the injustice needs to be fixed for the community and we are doing this.”

“I don’t see the point in meeting with the police commissioner until he understands the consequences of his words. I am one of the people who think that he doesn’t need to be fired but he tarnished us all with the same brush,” said former Yesh Atid MK Pnina Tamano-Shata.

“The commissioner has to understand that we are not new immigrants and it is time to change the discourse,” she added.