Hebrew University students protest racism and discrimination at Mt. Scopus campus.
(photo credit: ODED BAHAR)
Student groups showed solidarity with the struggle of the Ethiopian- Israeli community throughout the country on Wednesday, with preparations to continue Thursday. A demonstration on the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem drew approximately 300 students, with activists handing out black ribbons and informative flyers about racism in Israel.
Shoshana Fente, an Ethiopian-Israeli student activist, spoke at the demonstration about the police force, “a body that, for a long time already, has not represented security and safety for us, rather the opposite.” She stated that the filmed assault of an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier in uniform last week by two policemen was not the first incident of its kind. The problem goes beyond physical violence and includes verbal violence and humiliation at the hands of the police, she said.
Fente further accused the police of not dealing with the many incidents of violence and racism against the Ethiopian-Israeli community.
Fente went on to note that she was speaking to two distinct groups – the Israeli-Ethiopian community and the non-Ethiopian community. “Yes, two audiences,” she said. “We were not the ones who chose to create them both, rather society forced upon us this split.
“Society has not allowed us to be who we want to be. You forced upon us with your prejudices who we are and who we will be, you chose to label us as ‘the pitiful Ethiopian,’ ‘the nice Ethiopian,’ or ‘the success story,’” Fente said.
She called upon each individual to break free of the stereotypes they hold in order to start the long, but meaningful process toward a more united and equal society.
Einalem Mangisto, another Ethiopian- Israeli activist at the event and a student of communications and international relations at the Hebrew University, spoke with The Jerusalem Post about the wave of demonstrations over the past week.
Mangisto says that the events were not organized, but were “pirate” events, with word of the protests spreading through social media. She also spoke about the problems facing the Ethiopian-Israeli community as going beyond the police brutality that was caught on film.
She points out that Damas Pakada, the soldier who was beaten by two policemen officer last week, was wearing his IDF uniform at the time of the assault. “We’re talking about a soldier – a soldier who is willing to die for his country, who is protecting his country,” said Mangisto, adding that even when they are born in Israel and serve in the most dangerous and elite units of the army, the Ethiopian Israelis are never seen as equal.
“We want equal rights like everyone else,” Mangisto cites as the ultimate goal of the protests. She speaks about the places where Ethiopian Israelis are treated differently than other citizens – in kindergartens, schools, in the army selection process, in academia, in the workforce, and in jails.
“We want the police brutality to end,” she continues, and adds that all the police files of Ethiopian-Israeli violence towards police should all be opened and reinvestigated. “They were beaten up by the police and also got a police file that will follow them for the rest of their lives,” she says of those arrested.
Mangisto, who arrived in Israel at the age of three in 1990, is still considered a new immigrant by the State of Israel. Her nephews, who were born in Israel, are also new immigrants according to the state. It is one of the problems the community of Ethiopian Israelis wants to solve – to have problems dealt with as any other citizen would, through the proper ministry channels, be it education, health, housing, etc. – but not through the Absorption Ministry some 30 years after the community moved to Israel and became full Israeli citizens.
The demonstration at the Hebrew University on Wednesday was organized by the Ofek student faction and was joined by many other student groups on campus. The National Union of Israeli Students has also come out in support of the Ethiopian- Israeli struggle and called on all students to wear black shirts as a mark of solidarity on Thursday.
The National Union of Israeli Students stated that representation of the Ethiopian community at academic institutions is disproportionately low compared to their population: only 0.9 percent of students are Ethiopian, despite being 1.5 percent of the population.
“The struggle of the Ethiopian community did not start this week and it will not end in the near future,” state Gilad Arditi, chairman of the National Union of Israeli Students.
“We believe that the attitude toward Ethiopians is part of a wide mosaic of racism that exists in the State of Israel and it must be eradicated.”