Driver, Egged to compensate passenger for racist incident

Court orders Driver Nissim Ben Yakar to pay NIS 60,000 after refusing to let woman on his bus and telling her "Ethopians are stupid people."

October 10, 2011 04:30
3 minute read.

Egged bus 74 normal day 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

A bus driver who humiliated a young Ethiopian student by telling her he “doesn’t let blacks ride on the bus” has been ordered to pay NIS 60,000 compensation, the Courts Service announced Sunday.

The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court ruled that bus driver Nissim Ben-Yakar would pay the hefty compensation fine to Yadeno Varka after making racist remarks to her in 2009.

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The Transportation Ministry had sued Ben-Yakar and his employer, the Egged bus company, after the incident, which occurred after Varka tried to board his bus at Rishon Lezion’s central bus station.

Ben-Yakar told Varka he did not allow “black Ethiopians” to ride on the bus.

Judge Abraham Heiman noted Ben-Yakar also said there were no buses in Ethiopia and people there did not even have shoes, so Varka should walk.

“Who brought these blacks to Israel, they aren’t Jewish, all these blacks should be returned to Ethiopia,” the judge quoted Ben-Yakar as having said.

“Ethiopians are stupid people” who “don’t belong in Israel” and who are “only damaging Israel,” the bus driver also told Varka, according to the judge.

Heiman described Yakar’s words as “racist remarks that expressed his disgust.”

“[When] the complainant gave testimony, every word she spoke expressed her hurt over those racist words,” the judge added.

The judge noted that, in Varka’s testimony, she had described how she had not known how to read and write when she immigrated to Israel, but had done everything she could to assimilate into Israeli society and be an Israeli.

She had completed her high school education and embarked on higher studies, the judge noted.

“And then, along came someone to whom her skin color is anathema, but rather than swallowing that anathema, instead that person reviles the poor complainant,” Heiman said.

Ben-Yakar had humiliated Varka in front of everyone on the bus, he said.

The judge described such racism as unacceptable, and said Israel’s Zionist ethos is about accepting the ‘ingathering of the exiles’ regardless of their country of origin or skin color.

He also noted that even after his conviction Ben-Yakar continued to deny the charges against him.

“The event that we’re judging today does not fit me at all, it’s not me,” Ben-Yakar said in a statement to the court before the verdict. He nevertheless apologized to the complainant.

In addition to the NIS 60,000 compensation to the complainant, Ben-Yakar was ordered to pay a fine of NIS 5,000 and sign a guarantee of NIS 50,000 that he would not commit the same offense again within three years.

Ben-Yakar has also been fined by Egged, and in a statement after the verdict, Egged spokesman Ron Ratner said the bus company “condemns and denounces the driver’s behavior, which does not reflect that of all Egged drivers.”

Lawyer Jasmin Keshet of Tebeka, a legal advocacy organization for Ethiopian Israelis, welcomed the ruling and described the level of compensation Ben-Yakar had been ordered to pay to the complainant was “significant” and signaled the judge wanted to make a statement.

The judge ordered Egged, Ben-Yakar’s employer, who was also named in the suit, to pay a fine of NIS 5,000 and compensate Varka with a sum of NIS 10,000.

Egged was also ordered to sign a NIS 20,000 guarantee that the company would not commit a similar offense within the next three years.

According to Keshet, this part of the ruling is also particularly significant, because Egged could potentially face large liabilities if more people file complaints about racist acts on buses.

However, Keshet also condemned Egged for continuing to employ Ben-Yakar even after his conviction.

“They could have found a way to remove [Ben-Yakar] from his post as a driver,” she said.

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