There’s a tragic similarity between African Americans and Ethiopian Israelis. Sadly, both groups face higher than average rates of incarceration, poverty, and a palpable disparity within the criminal justice systems of their respective societies. As a result, tensions have elevated into clashes with law enforcement in both Tel Aviv and Baltimore, as well as years of frustration and anger towards the systemic injustices that have led to such profound disparities. 

Therefore, why do American and Israeli societies mirror one another within the context of social injustices? What is it within both countries that allows poverty and incarceration rates to continue at such staggering numbers, without public outrage? Also, both nations are founded upon the ideal that human beings are created equal, yet both the U.S. and Israel seem to diverge from this precept when it comes to one segment of their respective populations.

In the U.S., African-Americans face a 27.4% poverty rate, a poverty rate of 45.8% for black children under six years of age, and 1 million of the 2.3 million Americans incarcerated are African American. According to the NAACP, higher than average poverty and incarceration rates have resulted in frightening disparities within the American justice system:

African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.

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Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population.



According to Unlocking America, if African American and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of whites, today's prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%.

In addition, CNN states that, “Being black in America today is just about the same as having a felony conviction in terms of one’s chances of finding a job." According to The Wall Street Journal, "Prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years, an analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found.

As for Israel, there’s a striking similarity between the experience Ethiopian Jews face and the African American experience in the U.S. According to Seth Frantzman in a Jerusalem Post piece titled Social Affairs: Breaking Point, systemic issues within Israel have resulted in Ethiopian Jews experiencing higher rates of poverty, police brutality, and other injustices:

Ethiopian protests in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have raised awareness about police brutality and racism, but can Israel address the larger institutional problems faced by the community?

…And a new generation of Ethiopians, born in Israel and serving in the IDF at among the highest rates, found their future stifled.

Forty percent were being sentenced to military prison, often for economic reasons – like fleeing the army to work part-time to help their families.

Juvenile rates of incarceration rose to 30% in one prison; police stereotyping, complaints of profiling and violence grew.


The picture that emerges is of a community that is young (40% are under age 18), but faces impossible hurdles. Israel drafts them into the IDF but can’t seem to invest in basic educational requirements. Indeed, protesters chanted, “Our blood is good enough for the war in Gaza, but not back home.”

In addition, Frantzman explains that protests in Tel Aviv over police brutality were lacking in diversity, leaving the impression upon many in Israeli society that the discontent was simply an “Ethiopian” issue. A 52% poverty rate among Ethiopian families in Israel, incomes below the national average, and a gap in education between Ethiopian students and other Israeli students highlight the frustration vented in recent protests. In addition to education, around 65% of Ethiopian children in Israel live in poverty.

Sound familiar?


Like the protests and riots in Ferguson and Baltimore, both American and Israeli societies look at the television screen and see “another group” in anger and frustration. The recent crisis in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was the result of an Ethiopian Israeli soldier beaten in a video; a scene that caused Benjamin Netanyahu to say he was “shocked” by the footage.
While America is still reeling from the death of Freddie Gray, only months after the deaths of Michael Brown, John Crawford, and so many other unarmed black men, Israel too is dealing with the issue of racial injustice towards Damas Pakada
.


The real question, however, is why?


Why is there a tragic link between race relations in Israel and the U.S.?


Why, if both countries revel in their status as leading democracies, do their respective democracies allow such tragic rates of poverty, child poverty, education and employment gaps, and police brutality towards their citizens of color?


The existence of racism in both societies is perhaps the most obvious answer. However, in addition to racism, there’s a cruel form of apathy at play in such systemic injustices. When poverty and incarceration rates have remained high for decades, what does this say about the overall populations’ view of those being incarcerated, or condemned to generations within the clutches of poverty?


Finally, ask yourselves what would happen if the tables were turned. Imagine Travon Martin as a Jewish teenager followed and then killed by a paranoid neighborhood watchman. What if unarmed Jewish men were being killed by police or Jewish Americans faced a 27% poverty rate?

Imagine if Israelis of European descent were living in perpetual poverty while Ethiopian Jews dominated the Knesset and faced infinitely better economic realities.

If you imagine the tables turned, then you’ll be able to see the social disparities in a new and more poignant light.


Suddenly, it won’t be the “other” looting or protesting about brutality or poverty. If you put yourself in the shoes of your fellow Ethiopian and African-American citizens, and pretend for a day to live their lives, perhaps you might see that a solution to the dilemmas they face is also your responsibility. Suddenly, you won’t be so removed from the plight of fellow human beings and the people who fight for your country, helped build your country, and still suffer within your country. 



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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of The Jerusalem Post. Blog authors are NOT employees, freelance or salaried, of The Jerusalem Post.

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