In the last few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue I brought up in my previous post The Call Is Coming from Inside the House–situations in which a minority community with an appalling history of oppression by law enforcement asks for law enforcement intervention due to rising crime rates. I compared the Arab Israeli protests for law enforcement intervention to the letters recently penned by NAACP leaderships in Oakland and San Francisco.

What I didn’t discuss was an obvious difference in the way these calls for enhanced law enforcement reverberate within these communities and outside them, which puzzles me. As I explained in that post, the Arab Israeli community is fairly united in its call for police intervention and personal safety. The pressure on allies and other members of the center-left opposition to Netanyahu is to participate in protests calling for the police to investigate and solve these crimes. People get excoriated for not embracing this call.

By contrast, the NAACP calls I looked at in the previous post have by no means represented the consensus in the Black community and, in fact, provoked a lot of strife and antagonism. There is serious critique and questioning of the concept of “Black-on-Black crime”, efforts to present police violence as a much more important and salient problem than the crime problem, and pretty oppressive silencing of the few white voices that don’t fall in line with the “don’t call 911” ethos.

This difference in approaches is striking not only within minority groups and their adjacent communities, but also among academic and human rights milieus. In Israel, ACRI (the equivalent of the ACLU) feels deeply conflicted on what to do and who to support. And in the U.S., academics and nonprofits by and large fall in line with the idea that the priority is to curb police violence, rather than intra-racial civilian violence.

At the recommendation of a friend, I started listening to Micha Goodman and Efrat Shapira-Rosenberg’s podcast Miflegeth HaMahshavot (“The Party of Thoughts”), which explains ideologies in Israeli politics. In one early episode, they explain the rise of Ra’am, the first time a major Arab party was part of the Knesset. According to Goldman, this election represents the triumph of sectorial interests, which Ra’am sought to promote, over the big issue of the Palestinian occupation that the Joint Party, the other Arab party, sought to promote. Ironically, though, Ra’am is an Islamist party, presumably less inclined toward compromises, which raises the question how it came to offer Arab-Israeli voters a pragmatist, sectorial platform. Goodman thinks that it reflects a unique form of religious pragmatism: we, humans, worry about our immediate, short-term issues (chief among which is the intraracial crime problem), while God/Allah will worry about our ultimate salvation (an Arab state from Jordan to the Mediterranean sea).

If applied to the U.S., Goldman’s might predict a similar sectorial emphasis on restoring personal safety to the neighborhoods referred to in Supreme Court jurisprudence “high crime areas” and in sociological parlance “neighborhoods where poor people of color live.” And yet, that’s not what we’re seeing. Either fighting crime is not (or, until recently, was not) a sectorial issue of high priority for Black communities, or police violence is more of an issue of that sort. Why are we not seeing parallel processes in the two countries, then? hypothesis would So, why is there a difference?

I’ve tried to hash this with friends, and I’m not sure I’ve nailed the issue, though I have some thoughts. Let’s work through this the way Hercule Poirot would solve a crime: by gathering suspects and eliminating them from our inquiries. The first two possibilities are related to the with the relevant weight of the crime and police problems in the two countries, and I find both unpersuasive:

  1. The crime problem and the threat to personal safety are much more serious in Israel than in the U.S. This is not something that is easy to measure, and geography makes a big difference. Crime is not evenly distributed in either country. The existence of “million dollar blocks” and places ravaged by gang warfare is unfortunate, but not fictional. I think in both places there are people living under a serious threat of violent crime.
  2. Police violence toward minorities is a much more serious problem in the U.S. than it is in Israel. This is also something that is difficult to measure, especially due to problems of underreporting. Again, geography makes a big difference, because in both countries enforcement is selective and very geography-driven. In addition, the national security/conflict in Israel throws in another factor (there are now voices calling to involve Israel’s security service, the Shabak, in crime solving in Arab Israeli villages. Yikes.) I would have to parse out the statistics, but I don’t see that Arab Israelis are more fortunate than Black Americans in the treatment they receive from the police.

If we accept the premise that crime rates and police violence are serious problems for both populations in both countries, we should consider the extent to which the crime picture emerging from the two context is different. In other words, can Arab-Israeli crime be distinguished from Israeli crime in general to the degree that Black crime can be disaggregated from American crime? How easy is it to treat it as a unique, endemic problem? Again, two options emerge, one sociological and one involving framing.

  1. The sociological issue: Perhaps voices in the Arab-Israeli community are more successful in raising crime rates as a problem because intra-racial violent crime in Israel is, or is perceived as, more of a stereotypically/characteristically Arab/Palestinian problem than intra-racial violent crime in the U.S. is perceived as a stereotypically Black problem. This requires viewing murder cases, including unsolved murders, through a criminological lens. I have the 2021 data. What it tells us is that Arab- Israeli murders might not be as distinctive as the media suggests. In a previous post I described the disturbing statistics about the murder of Arab women, but those are less than 13% of overall murders in the Arab community. We know most of these are shoot-outs and most of the victims are under 30 years old. This doesn’t seem to paint a picture full of honor killings and, in fact, resembles organized crime killings in the U.S. Both countries also feature problems involving the proliferation of guns in criminal hands that are certainly not limited to this or that ethnic/racial group. It is true that, in Israel, 64% of murder cases are perpetrated by Arabs (usually against Arabs), who are merely 21.1% of the general population. FBI UCR data for 2019 shows that African-Americans (who were 14% of the U.S. population in 2021) accounted for 55.9% of all homicide offenders in 2019. In both cases we have considerable overrepresentation that cannot be explained merely by discriminatory policing/investigatory practices.
  2. The framing issue: Perhaps politicians on the left in Israel feel more comfortable calling for police intervention to solve intra-racial crime in Israel because there it is not perceived as being tied to, or stemming from, the Jewish/Zionist hegemony to the extent that intra-racial crime in the U.S. is perceived as a response to white supremacy. Even if this is true, it raises a further question: what impacts the framing?

Which brings us to the final frontier: I think that a big difference between Israel and the U.S. has to do with intra-movement politics and positionality, and these factors are responsible for how the problem is framed:

  1. I think that Goodman is right in that Israeli Palestinians/Arabs have become more invested in sectorial politics, while the U.S. Black community has by-and-large retained its interest in the bigger questions of criminalization/incarceration.
  2. This could be related to the respective size of the two countries in two ways. First, in Israel there’s more segregation in terms of where people live. This means that educated, middle-class Arab Israelis will live in closer proximity to crime than middle-class Black Americans and, because of that, will be more invested in personal safety and law enforcement (this is in line with James Forman’s argument about D.C., which is a city in which Black politicians and police officers hold considerable power and use it to “lock up their own.”) Second, the sheer population of the minority group is so much smaller in Israel that, to the extent that someone even cares about the plight of the community, it will hear mostly from middle-class, law-abiding folks afraid to let their kids outside to play; in the U.S. there’s a multiplicity of voices which, amplified by social media and activism, includes the interests of those more concerned about police persecution than about crime prevention.
  3. Finally, I think the Israeli scenario contains an important factor: Arab/Palestinians who are Israeli citizens are in a completely different situation than Palestinians living in Palestine. The latter are in such dire straits, and treated so appallingly by the army, the security services, and the settlers, that the police-citizen encounters against Israeli citizens, ugly as they may be, don’t even register as a problem by comparison.

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