Israel’s police chief angered Israelis when he claimed it is ‘natural’ to suspect Ethiopians. But his remarks are simply a reflection of where Israeli society is at today.
By Galia Boneh
Police Chief Roni Alsheikh’s recent comments, according to which it is “natural” for police to be suspicious of Ethiopian Israelis, stirred much controversy. They also lead to an important public discussion, exemplifying how structural racism works, and how racist acts in the name of public service gain legitimacy from the top echelon.
In parallel, however, they also allowed the public to characterize Alsheikh as a racist, to renounce him while absolving ourselves of responsibility. In his book Between the World and Me, African-American journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates writes the following:
Although Coates is writing about the situation in the United States, his words resonate here as well. It is easy to be outraged and shirk responsibility for the police chief’s remarks. It is less comfortable to think about how they reflect and represent us, and to remember that all the injustices carried out by Israel’s police against Ethiopians — was well as against Arabs, asylum seekers, and other persecuted groups — are the result of our desires as a society.
Natural law. It is no coincidence that the police chief enlisted natural law to justify the police’s racist conduct. “Nature” is the ultimate justification — one cannot become angry over something natural. Like an earthquake or a tsunami, one can feel a deep pain over loss, but the forces of nature are not something we can judge; there is no one to get angry at, since they are out of our control. Thus the attempt to change natural law is doomed to failure, despite the fact that any attempt to do so is greatly appreciated. At least someone is trying.
But Alsheikh is not the only one who says racism is natural. This was the most common argument I heard over the past year, during which I analyzed the issue of racism as part of my studies at the Mandel School for Educational Leadership. For example, at a conference toted “Are We Racist?” at Hebrew University in April, one of the speakers said that skin color is a symbol that naturally distinguishes between groups, and that a group’s natural proclivity is to despise and deny “the other.” Thus, it was said, without constant intervention...Read More