Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis demonstrated over the weekend against an alleged police discrimination, after a video footage surfaced last week showing policemen beating a uniformed Israeli soldier of Ethiopian origin.
The protest in Tel Aviv on Sunday night, which turned violent and left many injured, came after mass protests were held on Thursday outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. The decision of Israel’s Interior Minister to allow immigration for relatives of Ethiopian Israeli soldiers—announced earlier the same day—didn’t come as a relieve.
“It’s an unfortunate incident,” said Professor Ephraim Isaac, a renowned Ethiopian Jewish scholar who spoke to GIZEYAT over the phone about the video footage. “This is an issue that needs to be addressed.”
Israeli authorities say both officers have been dismissed but the incident remains under investigation.
On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Cpl. Damas Fekade, the soldier who was beaten by two police officers in Tel Aviv. The Prime Minister later on conferred with leaders from the Ethiopian Israeli community, whom he reportedly urged to stand together as one to eliminate racism in Israel.
“This is definitely an important gesture in acknowledging the victim, and the injustice caused to the soldier and to the community,” said Germaw Mengistu, an Ethiopian-Israeli who just completed his PhD thesis at Haifa University on the discourse of immigration in Israel.
“But if the Prime Minister decides to encourage the morale of soldiers and civilians, his office would have to invite the youths who were thrown in jail over such routine allegations of assaulting an officer,” Mengistu said.
It was only a few years ago reports came out claiming over 40% of all Ethiopian-Israelis who have served in the Israel Defense Forces have been imprisoned, further raising concerns that systemic racism could have afflicted Ethiopian Jews for years.
“There could be few racist people in Israel like there are in every other society, but the Israeli society as a whole is not racist,” said Professor Isaac, who oversees the Institute of Semitic Studies in Princeton, New Jersey. “Like most everything else in this world, it takes only a few people to destroy the good things many have labored to put up.”
The Professor believes this is an issue Israelis are able to solve, though it could take the newly re-elected Netanyahu some time as his administration is still taking shape post elections. He also noted that Netanyahu’s Likud party has brought up the only Ethiopian Israeli Knesset member, Avraham Negusie, during this year’s elections.
“I know Neguise very well and he is quite the go-getter,” Professor Issac said, “and once post-election procedures are over, I’m sure we will see him advancing the concerns of Ethiopian Jews.”
But for many Ethiopian Israelis like journalist Danny Adeno Abebe, this is only the beginning of a long journey before they see their rights fully respected. On one of his recent Facebook posts Abebe wrote, “The protest was authentic and the pain was real, but you can’t rest on your laurels.”