Ethiopian Jews anger at Israeli police racism and brutality

Ethiopian Jews anger at Israeli police racism and brutality
3 min read
Israel admitted to 'mistakes' on Monday in its treatment of Ethiopian Jews, describing their suffering as "an open wound" as thousands demonstrate against racism and brutality.
Sunday night's violence was the second such protest in several days [AFP]

Israel on Monday admitted "mistakes" in dealing with its Ethiopian community as top officials sought to ease tensions after clashes erupted during protests over police brutality and racism.  

Last week, years of simmering anger within the Ethiopian minority exploded into anger during a protest in Jerusalem sparked by a video showing two police assaulting an Ethiopian soldier in uniform. 

President Reuven Rivlin said on Monday that Israel had made mistakes in its treatment of the Ethiopian Jewish community, describing their suffering as "an open wound".

"We have made mistakes. We did not look, we did not listen enough," he said in a statement. 

     Ethiopians were a hundred percent right to protest. It's a racist country and we don't accept them...
- Zion Cohen, an Israeli participant

Sunday night's violence was the second such protest in several days, and demonstrations are expected to continue.

Police fired stun grenades to disperse the rally. Some of the demonstrators hurled stones, bottles and chairs from nearby restaurants after attempting to storm the Tel Aviv municipality building.

Police said 46 officers as well as at least seven demonstrators were wounded in the clashes, and 26 protestors were arrested.

As the rally began, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement saying that on Monday he would meet Damas Pakada, the soldier who was beaten, as well as other representatives of the Ethiopian community.

"All claims will be looked into but there is no place for violence and such disturbances," Netanyahu said.

Police pledged a crackdown on those members of the force who have used violence against the Ethiopian community after the video footage went public.

More than 135,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, having immigrated in two waves in 1984 and 1991.

But they have struggled to integrate into Israeli society, despite massive government aid.

While Ethiopian Jews have high rates of employment, their average income is lower than that of other Israelis, and they are under-represented in academia and public office.

Officials said that approximately 20 of the minors held in juvenile prisons were of Ethiopian descent.

"Being black, I have to protest today," 34-year-old Eddie Maconen told AFP before the clashes outside the municipality.

"I never experienced police violence against me personally, but it is aimed at my community which I have to support," he said.

Maconen, who came to the country aged three, said the protesters wanted violent policemen to be put on trial before deeper issues of social inequality were tackled.

"First the police need to be dealt with, then we'll get to all the other (official) bodies that screw over Ethiopians," he said.

Police estimated 3,000 people took part in the demonstration, while media reports cited organisers as putting the number at 10,000.

Zion Cohen, an Israeli participant, told AFP the Ethiopians were "a hundred percent right" to protest.

"It's a racist country and we don't accept them," he said.