“Believers in the Police,” a conservative Israeli police recruiting initiative, is making headway within the structure of the Israel Police. As a broad organization, the Israel Police handles most disputes in the country, from traffic violations to counter-terrorism. The force has faced cases of serious misconduct in the past, with instances of bribery, sexual harassment, and excessive force making headlines. And now, “Believers in the Police” threatens to corrupt Israel’s police by increasing the influence of fundamentalism, the military, and settlers.
Though difficult to verify many of the specifics of the program, the best sources we could report the following facts. The chief rabbi of the program, Rami Brachyahu, seeks to bring “something Godly into something that has historically functioned as not Godly.” To achieve this, “Believers” aims to recruit and train citizens from more conservative backgrounds. While the Israel Police has an established method of training, “Believers” modifies this regular process. In just two years (instead of the five mandated by the Israeli police program), recruits go through many of the standard training proceedings, with added Torah study. Both Brachyahu and Rabbi Dov Lior, another teacher in the program, are staunch defenders of the King’s Torah, a set of texts that condones the killing of non-Jews, emphasizes the inferiority of other groups of people, and even encourages the infliction of harm on the children of enemies. Even if “Believers” does not make explicit use of the text, the fact that two senior members of the organization defend it so strongly suggests that the religious education received by those in the program is far-right and problematic. Moreover, “Believers” openly supports the institution of policing policies that conform to the requirements of halachic law—Jewish religious law—which might prevent officers from performing non-lifesaving work on Shabbat and permit questionable interrogation techniques.
In 2003 (the most recent study of its kind), Israel’s judiciary concluded that “prejudice … exists even among officers who are experienced and admired,” and urged that, “the police must learn to realize that the Arab sector in Israel is not the enemy and must not be treated as such.” The rise of “Believers” and its leaders’ defense of the King’s Torah will only make this situation worse, as those who are religious fundamentalists are the driving force behind the settler movement. Further, of ideologically-motivated offenses against Palestinians, the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din finds that only 7.3 percent of these complaints lead to a successful indictment. Though not conclusive, this fact strongly suggests the apathy of the Israel Police toward the oppression of Arabs. The fundamentalist frame of mind and the widespread indifference of the Israel Police toward hate crimes against Palestinians have certainly motivated hostilities between Arabs and Jews.
“Believers” also aims to recruit religious soldiers who have held posts in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), raising concerns about the militarization of the Israel Police. A recruitment film from 2015 created by the Israel Police exclusively shows violent and militaristic acts against Arabs. And just last year, officers used tear gas, stun guns, and water cannons to put down protests by the Ethiopian-Israeli community. These militant techniques are reminiscent of ways that the IDF has dealt with Palestinians in the West Bank, and they betray the blurred lines between military and police activities in Israel as a whole.
Leaders of “Believers” further support the actions of illegal settlers and recruit from the settler community. In the summer of 2015, many settlers attacked the Palestinian town of Duma, setting fire to homes. Though the Israel Police and the office of Prime Minister Netanyahu were quick to condemn the attack, “Believers” leadership did not believe that the event was an act of terror. Moreover, the founder of “Believers,” Nahi Eyal, explicitly sought to help settlers “find [their] way into the command ranks” of the Israel Police. Brachyahu, the settler behind the organization, is already in a position of power, having made his way to the post of chief rabbi. For many within the department, Brachyahu’s job description includes providing a moral compass for officers. His morals, however, may be at conflict with the beliefs of the modern Israeli society. For instance, he signed a letter condemning Israeli politician Elazar Stern for criticizing the King’s Torah. This increased fundamentalism and bias towards Jews within the Israel Police will most likely bring about an increase in violent conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, as Brachyahu wants non-religious police officers to follow in the example of their religious counterparts and obey fundamentalist Jewish law.
Though “Believers” is seeking to move Israel to the far-right, public opinion and the political leanings of institutions in Israel fall along a broad spectrum. Earlier this year, the IDF condemned soldiers who were quick to use force against Palestinians. Some policemen have even evicted settlers who were in Palestinian territory. One IDF general went so far as to compare the politics of his country to those of Germany under Hitler. Yet soldiers have also been seen aiding settlers and violently attacking Palestinian protesters. Additionally, support for human rights organizations among Israeli citizens has dropped significantly. According to a Pew Research poll, most Israelis believe that settlements either do not affect or hurt Israel’s security, yet these numbers vastly differ based on religious practice, with more secular Israelis opposing the occupation and the ultra-religious supporting it. Thus, the rise of “Believers” will only do more to solidify the divisions between the Israeli far right and moderates.
Finally, the prospect of having “Believers” implement its own training methods should be worrisome both to Israelis and Palestinians alike. As of now, “Believers” is hoping to add to the mere 7 percent of Israeli police officers who are religious by training five hundred new officers by 2020. Even for Jewish Israelis, this means a police force that prioritizes God’s laws over the state’s laws. As seen in other Middle Eastern countries whose police forces have followed the same path, movements of this kind can have serious consequences.
The governmental institutions of Israel are at a crossroads: though many have voiced opposition to the right-wing policies of settlers and the Netanyahu government, “Believers” and other members of the far right continue to make their way into positions of power within Israel. Israel must decide whether to move in the more fundamentalist religious direction of many of its neighbors or whether to take a more moderate approach to issues such as policing.
The image featured in this article is licensed under Creative Commons. The original image can be found here.
Ashton Hashemipour is a second-year Political Science major interested in international relations and foreign policy. This summer, he interned at Congresswoman Robin Kelly’s district office here in Chicago. On campus, he’s the Director of Publication at EUChicago, a Chair for the Model UN Conference the university hosts, and on the International Policy Program at the Institute of Politics.