A Knesset committee held a spirited debate on Tuesday, May 22, about whether the Police Investigations Department (PID) is letting officers off the hook too soon when accusations of brutality arise, especially from Ethiopians, Arab-Palestinians and other minorities. The debate was held as part of Equality Day for members of the Ethiopian Israeli community held in the Knesset by initiative of MK Dov Khenin (Hadash – Joint List).
The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee was discussing a bill that would mandate the PID take more time and probe more deeply before closing cases in which police have been accused of beating or unjustifiably attacking members of such groups.
Various groups have claimed the PID runs a lightning-fast process in which it closes most cases against police within an unreasonably short time and, it follows, with insufficient chances to fully examine all the evidence and question the relevant witnesses.
PID critics have said this process is set up to whitewash allegations against police for brutality and that the absence of an effective right to appeal PID decisions to close files undermines the integrity of the process.
Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews CEO Ziva Mikonen Dago said, “If there is an Ethiopian-Israeli offender, he needs to pay a price like anyone else. The problem is that they are automatically and immediately transformed into suspects by Israeli society. There is no [Ethiopian] Israeli family who has not experienced discrimination or been pursued by the police.” She added that in 2015, Ethiopians were implicated in altercations with police at a rate six times higher than for other Israelis.
Tackling the positions of the PID, MK Khenin accused it of being blind to the racism in its midst and among police. He said numerous public examples have proven that police brutality against Ethiopians, Arabs and other minorities is an ongoing phenomenon, which must be proactively combated by the PID far more aggressively than it is currently doing.
An official from the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI), Attorney Noa Levy, said that while there is formally a right to appeal, in practice, the PID virtually always refuses to give complainants any of the contents of the case file or its reasons for closing the case, claiming it cannot share these materials until the prosecution’s case against the complainant has been concluded.
In essence, the PCATI is claiming the PID’s policy limits complainants and, in effect, discourages the filing of appeals that have no chance of success.