Calling on the government to wake up and take a serious stand against racism,
thousands of people marched through the streets of Jerusalem Wednesday to
protest what they believe is ongoing and institutionalized discrimination
against Israelis of Ethiopian descent.
In contrast to previous
anti-racism demonstrations, including one that took place last week in Kiryat
Malachi, members of Israel’s Ethiopian community were joined by a wide range of
people from all sectors of society, as well as a large number of politicians and
members of NGOs.
“Our goal is to raise awareness and send the message to
the government of Israel to wake up and take notice that there are black Jews in
Israel and that it is also our country,” Gadi Yevarkan, director of the Center
for Social Equality for the Ethiopian Jews, and one of the protest’s organizers,
told The Jerusalem Post.
Yevarkan said he hoped to ensure that mistakes
made in the 1980s and 1990s in absorbing thousands of new immigrants from
Ethiopia would not continue.
Many of the community’s young leaders,
including Yevarkan, believe a problematic and discriminatory absorption process
has led to the creation of Ethiopian “ghettos,” segregation in the education
system, and racist attitudes toward Ethiopian immigrants among mainstream
Ethiopian activists furious over Landver
While Wednesday’s demonstration, which started outside
the Knesset and made its way to the Prime Minister’s Residence, was sparked by a
television news report that several residents of Kiryat Malachi had signed an
agreement not to sell or rent their apartments to families of Ethiopian descent,
Yevarkan said the reason for the protest was much deeper.
protesting because we are Jews and we remember that the last time we were not
allowed to rent apartments was when we lived in Ethiopia,” he said, adding that
those who turned out to protest had come “because they are Israelis and Jews, they are
patriotic and want Israel to be a good place to live.”
pointed out that he, along with many other young Ethiopian- Israelis, are often
used as a PR or marketing voice to prove that Israel is not a racist country. He
said it was time to make sure that this is truly the case.
“We want to
share the message that as Jews, we have all suffered because of our religion and
there is no reason for us not to feel at home in Israel,” he said.
last week’s protest in Kiryat Malachi was attended mainly by members of the
Ethiopian community, Wednesday’s march drew support from a wide range of
populations in Israel.
In attendance were several Knesset members. Most
prominent was opposition leader and Kadima party chairwoman Tzipi Livni, who had
to be escorted from the protest by bodyguards after the crowd turned hostile.
Other MKs who joined the protest included Ethiopian-born Shlomo Molla (Kadima),
Ilan Gilon (Meretz) and Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor).
Also making an
appearance was the woman who sparked last summer’s mass social justice protests,
“I believe this is an evolution of what happened in July,”
Leef told the Post. “Even though 7 percent of the population came out
onto the streets calling for social justice, the government has shown complete
disregard for social issues, and now we are even seeing a series of
anti-democratic laws. This is no longer a fight for welfare or education or
equal pay, but a fight for democracy that has created a civil rights
While Leef admitted there had been little contact between
leaders of the summer’s so-called “tent protests” and members of the Ethiopian
community, she said that due to recent activities that was likely to change.
Successive governments in Israel have “nurtured a divide-and-conquer method”
that has prevented different social groups from uniting and fighting together,
Wednesday’s protest brought together not only white people and
black people – also making an appearance were people with
Tzippi Arbeli, a wheelchair- bound activist, said it was
time for all of Israel’s minorities – people with disabilities, Ethiopians,
Arabs – to unite.
“Just because I have a disability does not mean I
should only be fighting for the rights of people with disabilities,” Arbeli
said. “It is all connected and we must all unite and fight for social justice