Israel to Purge Young Ethiopian Jews’ Criminal Records

Seeking to ‘mend rift’ with Ethiopian Jewry, Israel’s president and justice minister say they will expunge ‘disturbance of public order’ crime charges in honor of community’s Sigd holiday

A protest against racism towards the Ethiopian community, Tel Aviv, May 18, 2018. The sign reads “No to racism; Yes to unity”Tomer Appelbaum

President Reuven Rivlin and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called on members of the Ethiopian community who have criminal records for disturbing public order to submit requests to have them purged, in honor of the holiday of Sigd.

“Out of a desire to complete a process of healing the rifts, and to increase Ethiopian immigrants’ trust in the law enforcement and judicial authorities, the president and the justice minister call on Ethiopian minors and young people who have been tried in the past for disturbing public order and who were not given jail terms to submit requests to purge their criminal record,” the statement said.

“The requests will be weighed favorably, in view of the great contribution these young people make to Israeli society as a whole,” the statement said.

Two years ago, the Committee for Eradicating Racism Against Ethiopian Immigrants published a report stating that the Israeli authorities discriminated against Ethiopian immigrants in various areas, including law enforcement.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the President's Residence, November 5, 2018
Mark Neiman/GPO

The report, which was adopted by the government, noted that the number of criminal cases and indictments against Ethiopian Israelis was significantly higher than their proportion of the population.

According to the report, the violations generally began over “insignificant issues,” like a request for IDs or a request to spill out alcohol, that led to violence, arrest and the opening of a criminal file. Thus, standard policing activities have often served to start Ethiopian youth on the path to delinquency.

“The power of the institution of pardons is the ability to discuss Israeli issues that demand going beyond the letter of the law to serve the public interest,” said Rivlin. “Ethiopian immigrants have experienced discrimination from the establishment and Israeli society; they suffer from stigmas and negative stereotypes and are exposed to exclusion and prejudice, and even from physical and verbal violence.”

“It is our duty as a society to do everything to deal with the racismwithin us and uproot it, and all the authorities are obligated to combat the phenomenon of labeling, exclusion and discrimination of any kind,” Rivlin continued. “Our call is another step in the war against labeling and exclusion, another step toward healing the rift that has been created between Ethiopian immigrants and the establishment and society.”

Shaked added: “The State of Israel is committed to those of Ethiopian origin. It’s inconceivable that after the state worked to bring them here, it would alienate them. To prevent discrimination against members of the community we founded the anti-discrimination unit in the Justice Ministry, which is working to assure equal rights for community members. Now, together with the president, we are taking another important step toward increasing trust between Ethiopian immigrants and the state. In the end we are all brothers and we are here to live together in unity among the various communities.”

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