In the Media

Criminal Cases Opened Against Ethiopian Israelis Is Double Their Share of the Population

Photo: Taly Mayer, ShatilStock

Between 2018-2020, cases opened against Ethiopian Israelis were double their share of the population. Israel Police refuse to release a complete breakdown of the data due to concerns about the ‘reaction of the population in question’

Article by Josh Breiner, published in 

The rate of criminal cases opened against Israelis of Ethiopian descent during the years 2018-2020 was twice their share of the country’s population, according to a report released by the Association of Ethiopian Jews, the Adva Center and Hebrew University’s Clinical Legal Education Center. (Link to the report in Hebrew)

The report, which was based on data obtained through a freedom of information request made to the Israel Police, found that the rate of criminal cases initiated against Ethiopian minors during those years was 3.4 times their share of the general population of minors.

The police have refused to release a breakdown of criminal statistics relating to the Ethiopian population due to concerns about the “reaction of the population in question.”

That data showed that at the end of 2020, Israelis of Ethiopian descent numbered 159,500, equal to 1.7 percent of the country’s total population. During 2018-2020, the police opened a total of 879,907 criminal cases, of which 31,911 involved Ethiopians, equal to 3.5 percent.

That said, the report also found that the number of cases begun against Ethiopian Israelis during those years dropped from 11,500 in 2018 to 9,882 in 2020.

In addition, Ethiopians featured in higher proportion in cases opened on charges of “aggravated assault against a police officer”, charges of “street disturbances” and cases opened for “assaulting an officer or interfering with police work.”

Despite the fact that “street disturbances,” is not listed as a criminal offense in Israeli law books, it was a category that appears in police data handed over to the organizations behind the report.

The police refused to provide a complete breakdown of the data, which includes offenses according to the local police station that made the arrests. “In regard to a breakdown of criminal offenses by police station combined with category of crime, [we believe that] examination of the data that way could lead to labeling certain populations as criminal and harm the feelings of the Ethiopian population,” a police statement said. “This kind of labeling may undermine public order due to the reactions of the relevant population,” it said.
However, the police did provide figures on the number of overall cases opened by each police station, with a breakdown of those involving suspects of Ethiopian descent. The data showed that the highest rates were in Beit Shemesh, Rehovot, Ashdod and Petah Tikva.

Yuval Livnat, Adva’s executive director, said the report’s data was in line with the findings of the Palmor commission, which concluded that the police engaged in over enforcement towards Ethiopians. “Unfortunately, even today, several years after the [commission’s] report was published, no major change has occurred with the figures, nor has there been any change on the part of the Israel Police in regard to information and procedural transparency,” Livnat said.

“The police’s refusal to make public all of the data by claiming that it fears ‘hurting feelings’ violates the basic principles of freedom of information and transparency, and itself reflects negative labeling of Ethiopians by the Israel Police,” he said. Rina Ayalin-Gorelik, the director of the Association of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, said that “the police data demonstrate that Israelis of Ethiopian descent continue to suffer from over-policing and that profiling and discrimination remain a part of the police’s DNA.”

The police said that it had established a unit to handle relations with the community and that it conducts workshops for station commanders and other officers in an attempt to reduce the number of cases opened against Ethiopians.

“Relations with the community have changed a lot,” said Chief Superintendent Arye Doron, who heads the Israel Police’s Ethiopian community relations unit. “More and more cases involving minors are being processed through non-criminal channels with the local authorities in order to avoid any stigma. There are 28 stations where we run mutual transparency programs, where the station’s entire command sits down every month and a half with community representatives and talks about everything. In practical terms, it has reduced the number of juvenile criminal cases.

“In every course at the Police College we discuss the community. The trainees learn about its traditions so that officers can better connect with this population,” said Doron.

A police spokesman said: “The report’s conclusions are no longer relevant. The commissioner set up an Ethiopian section in the Communities Division that is working to implement both the commissioner’s policies and spirit of the State Comptroller’s findings on the matter.

“The police are engaged in a wide range of activities to strengthen the relationship with and trust of the community. Thanks to these efforts, a downward trend can be seen in the number of criminal cases opened against Ethiopian minors and in the number of arrests. All of this indicates improved procedures as well as significant changes both by the police and the community.”