Netanyahu at opening Knesset session: More needs to be done to fight racism in Israel

Marking Herzl Day, PM says Herzl clearly saw threat of anti-Semitism and suggested a solution, a Jewish state.

Netanyahu speaking at Knesset, May 4, 2015 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Netanyahu speaking at Knesset, May 4, 2015
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
More attention and more resources must be diverted to helping Ethiopian-Israelis integrate, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday.
Speaking during the Knesset’s commemoration of Herzl Day in the plenum, the prime minister called to ensure unity among all parts of Israeli society.
“We must fight racism and discrimination in every way and on every platform,” he said.
Netanyahu recounted hearing from young people who don’t leave their home because they are afraid of police, and promised to take care of it. He also said he spoke to a mother who said her five children feel trapped by the color of their skin, and young adults who said they don’t understand why they face racism after serving and fighting for their country.
“We will stop violence by police officers against members of the [Ethiopian-Israeli] community and fight with all our might against racism and discrimination,” he added.
When an MK in the plenum shouted “What changed?” Netanyahu responded that “sometimes things are changed slowly, step by step, and sometimes there’s a crisis that serves as a warning light that shows there’s a big problem.”
“The events of recent days teach us that there is a much deeper problem that requires more attention and resources.
We must understand that Israelis of Ethiopian descent are Israelis in every way,” Netanyahu stated.
Labor chairman Isaac Herzog spoke of “young Jewish men and women who speak and dream in Hebrew but feel humiliated and excluded in their own homes.
“This is a warning light we have to pay attention to and deal with urgently,” he said.
“We must remember: racism is racism is racism and everyone who fuels and grows it on either side of the political spectrum is undermining and endangering the wonderful human fabric of our lives.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called the outbreak of violence “a bleak chapter in the annals of Israeli history.
“Our hearts broke seeing the battle of our brothers of Ethiopian origin, which began as a legitimate protest and turned, unfortunately, into violent events,” Edelstein said, opening the first plenum meeting of the Knesset’s summer session. “I call on the sides to calm down and lower the flames... We must allow broad freedom of expression, but the minute it turns into violence and anarchism, it must be dealt with seriously.”
Edelstein called for the complaints of police brutality and discrimination to be investigated fully, and commended the government for taking steps to build trust.
The Knesset Speaker also said Israel has an impressive record of absorbing immigrants that should be protected.
On Wednesday, the Knesset plans to hold a discussion on discrimination against the Ethiopian- Israeli community.
Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon said “no one can say the writing wasn’t on the wall. The State of Israel failed in absorbing the Jews from Ethiopia.”
Kahlon described Ethiopian- Israelis as “a quiet, Zionist group with values who want to live in Israel and Jerusalem and found themselves in a daily struggle.
“They didn’t ask for anything, just for recognition that they’re part of this nation, and they are right. I can’t accept violence, but I hear them,” he added.
MK Abraham Naguise (Likud), the only current lawmaker born in Ethiopia, pointed out that most of the demonstrators are Israeli, were born and raised here, and don’t know any other country.
“Violence is not our way. We wanted to express legitimate anger,” he said, pointing out, among other issues, that 80 percent of schoolchildren of Ethiopian origin study in segregated classrooms.
Naguise also commended Netanyahu for pledging to make an effort to help immigrants from Ethiopia integrate and to reduce police brutality.
The state of Ethiopian immigrants’ integration was the topic of dozens of one-minute speeches MKs gave in the Knesset Monday, with several lawmakers dedicating their first-ever remarks in the plenum to the topic.
“Ethiopian immigrants are flesh of our flesh,” MK Anat Berko (Likud) said. “How did we get to this point?” “We cannot let our enemies defeat us because we are fighting one another; we must be united,” MK Miki Zohar (Likud) declared.
MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) declared: “I am not an Arab or an Israeli. Today, I am Ethiopian.”
Joint List MK Basel Ghattas asked what the difference is between Arab and Ethiopian victims of police violence, giving the answer: “The Ethiopian meets the prime minister the next day; the Arab meets his maker.”