News / The Diaspora / The World

Ethiopian Israelis await justice to be served

By AMLAKIE ZELEKE,  Correspondent   JUNE 10, 2015

Social integration urged to remedy community’s
overarching problems

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Ethiopian Israelis in Tel Aviv protesting an alleged racial discrimination toward their community on June 4, 2015. Agaza

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thiopian Israelis held a series of demonstrations over the past month decrying what they believe is an institutional racism toward their community.

The protests were first triggered after a video footage circulated in April showing policemen beating a uniformed Ethiopian-Israeli soldier.

Israeli authorities have since discharged the alleged offenders, with PM Benjamin Netanyahu later on forming a ministerial committee to investigate and address racism issues once and for all.

Some members of the community are finding the government’s actions insufficient. They say the government did not bring the alleged offenders to justice, and thus failed to restore the community’s confidence.

“The government’s inaction from immediately bringing the culprits to justice, despite our outrage, is having many of us to think that perhaps the country’s law only works for the whites,” said Haim Baruch, an Ethiopian Israeli from Petah Tikvah, Israel.

The latest demonstration in Tel Aviv, which took place on June 4, ended in scrimmage when police tried to disperse the unauthorized protests.

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Protestors and police scuffled during the unauthorized protests in Tel Aviv on June 4, 2015. Agaza

Observers believe some of the community’s protests are being held on impulse, indicating that the community is also faced with an internal problem from lack of unity.

An Ethiopian Israeli activist in Rechovot, Gadi Barkan, doesn’t agree with these claims. “I know certain organizations who want to see us divided, are circulating this rumor that our community is unorganized — that’s an unreasonable assumption. It is through our efforts that a committee led by the Prime Minister has now started to investigate the situation.”

“Besides, we should be careful not to politicize the peaceful protests; that’s why I prefer politically unaffiliated individuals to lead the cause,” he said.

Barkan acknowledges that even though at present it is mostly Ethiopian Jews who are grappling with discrimination, other minority communities have in the past underwent similar injustice. “The Yemenite and Moroccan Jews have got their rights respected after several and rigorous protests,” he said. “Today, it is our community making the same call for justice to be served, for unfair police treatment and the prejudice in the administrative and judicial system to come to an end. I believe our cause will help other minorities too.”

As the community’s anger lingers on and underlying issues surface, others consider that much of the gap might lie on how well the community has integrated with the larger Israeli society. Initiatives by the Israeli government, such as the Ethiopian National project, are now seeking more support to ensure the full and successful integration of Ethiopian Jews through scholastic assistance.

That’s a proposition that hit home for Israel Yishak, an Ethiopian Israeli nurse in Petah Tikvah. “To a certain extent, our community has integrated with the society through intermarriage, speaking the same language and attending schools together with other Israeli communities,” she said. “But in all honesty, there are lots of challenges that need to be tackled — like the racial discrimination in employment and not giving equal opportunity for educated Ethiopian Israelis.”

“And my advice to those who faced prejudice is to keep on the struggle by concentrating on their education, for prejudice can only be won over by knowledge,” she added.

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