Likening their battle to fighting the institutionalized racism that was once present in America, hundreds of members of the Ethiopian community took to the streets of Kiryat Malachi on Tuesday to protest reports of blatant racist behavior publicized recently on national television.

“We believe in what Martin Luther King did,” one of the protesters, 23- year-old student Shira Esayas told The Jerusalem Post. “We believe that racism has an effect on all of society and sadly Israel is very far behind America on this issue.”

Esayas, who traveled with friends from Haifa to join the protest, held a hand-written sign with the words “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Many banners read “No to racism” and “I have a dream.”

MK Molla to A-G: Investigate Kiryat Malachi racism

“This is a battle against social injustice and it is not just for the Ethiopian community, it is for everyone in Israel,” commented an organizer, Kiryat Malachi resident Avi Yalou. “There is institutionalized racism everywhere against the Ethiopians, we see it on every level and in all areas of society. Sadly, it is nothing new and today we are hoping that the rest of Israeli society will take up this battle too.”

Tuesday’s protest was sparked by a news broadcast last week on national television showing how a young Ethiopian family had attempted to purchase an apartment in a certain block in the town but accidentally discovered that the tenants had collectively signed an agreement not to rent or sell their properties to members of the Ethiopian community.

“We have already moved on from that story, it happens everywhere in Israel, in every town and city,” lamented Yalou. “There is a whole phenomenon [of institutionalized racism] and although it might have started here, there is nothing to stop it happening in Ashkelon, Beit Shemesh, Haifa or elsewhere.”

Yaakov Tala, who has lived in Kiryat Malachi four years, said that such discrimination against Ethiopians has existed locally for a while, but most members of the community refuse to talk or complain about it.

“Ethiopians are very quiet people,” Tala explained.

Despite that, the protest included a vocal march through the streets of Kiryat Malachi from a community center for Ethiopian immigrants to the residential blocks that are accused of signing the discriminatory document. The demonstration ended in a rally in front of the local municipality.

Twenty-one-year-old Oshrat Masala, a local Ethiopian resident who joined the protest at the apartment buildings that would not rent or sell to Ethiopians, arrived with her face painted a ghostly white.

“Maybe now I will be able to buy an apartment here,” she said, describing how this kind of racism has existed for a long time. “Finally the time has come for everyone to speak out against this.”

“Maybe our parents’ generation was quiet about this kind of racism but we are the second generation [of immigrants] and we are speaking out about what is going on,” continued Israeliborn Masala.

Elias Inbram, an activist who utilized Facebook to help raise awareness of the protest, said: “Enough is enough.”

“The authorities are always telling us to be patient, that [immigrant absorption] is a process, but we are seeing that even in the next generation things are the same,” he said. “We have been living in this country for more than 30 years, we have university degrees, we have served in the army, how much longer do we have to wait?”

Residents of the apartment building that signed the discriminatory agreement told The Jerusalem Post that the media had grossly exaggerated the issue and no such document exists.

One resident, who refused to give her name, said that she had no problem selling her apartment to members of the Ethiopian community.

“Money is money,” she said, adding that her daughter had many Ethiopian friends in school.

In light of the protest, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver said that her office was shocked and deeply saddened by events in Kiryat Malachi.

“It is very sad to hear that in 2012 there is still this kind of racism in Israeli society against new immigrants,” she said. “It is important to note that not so long ago all of us were new immigrants to Israel and I am ashamed to discover that this kind of intolerance exists among Israel’s population.”

MK Danny Danon, chairman of the Knesset Committee for Aliya, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, announced Tuesday that his committee would hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss the matter.