Israeli Police Commander Demoted Amid Allegations of Racism by Officers

Subordinates of Chief Lt. Shai Mizrahi made racist comments about a detainee of Ethiopian descent in a work WhatsApp group

A protester stands opposite to a policeman during the protest of Ethiopian Israelis, in Tel Aviv.
CORINNA KERN/ REUTERS

Chief Lt. Shai Mizrahi, police commander of Kiryat Malakhi, a town in southern Israel, was removed from his position on Sunday and is to be reassigned to another location, after three police officers under his command wrote messages disparaging a man of Ethiopian origin who was detained at the station.

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In one of the messages, which were first made public last week by Israeli public broadcaster Kan's Channel 11 news, a police officer sent a picture of the detainee, who was brought to the station bleeding and shackled, to a WhatsApp group of about 30 members of the police force. One detective in the group responded by calling him a “son of a whore,” while a female detective commented that the picture “looks amazing,” adding a love emoji. “Yes, a colored guy like that,” the first detective replied.

Another photo of the detainee shared later showed the man's wounds, sparking the same detective to write "Aw, a scar from the police for life." Another boasted the detainee "ate a lot of road and pepper spray."

The three police officers are being put on forced leave of absence and will face disciplinary proceedings. Israel Police's acting chief, Moti Cohen, condemned the acts. “I view any expression of that nature with gravity," Cohen said. "It does not represent the organization’s values and does not characterize the officers of the Israel Police.”

Israel's police force has faced growing scrutiny over alleged racism and violence against minorities in the last year. The deadly shooting of Solomon Teka, an 18-year-old Israeli of Ethiopian descent, by an off-duty police officer in the Haifa surburb of Kiryat Haim at the end of June 2019 sparked protests throughout the country.

The affair has led to criminal proceedings which are still under way, and even made a foray into Israel's third election in one year, after Israel's attorney general delayed the work of a committee set up by the justice ministry to investigate police misconduct until after the elections. 

AG Mendelblit, together with two different sets of petitioners, feared the main reason for the panel being formed by Likud Justice Minister Amir Ohana was to win more votes from Israelis of Ethiopian origin.