Media Comment: When is violence permitted?

Listening to our media this past week, one would get the impression that Israelis are racists who have systematically done all they could to take advantage of the Ethiopians.

Ethiopian - Israel protest in Tel Aviv (photo credit: BEN HARTMAN)
Ethiopian - Israel protest in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: BEN HARTMAN)
One of the bright chapters of Israeli history is the emigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In contrast to many other societies, Israelis welcomed the Ethiopian community wholeheartedly. Many a family took it upon themselves to personally care for Ethiopian immigrants, even though the cultural and social gap was big. Apart from a few exceptions, the religious Orthodox school system made conscious efforts to absorb them. Although much needs to be done, many of the community, and especially the first-generation Israelis, have become successful professionals, in politics, medicine, the military and more.
Listening to our media this past week, one would get the impression that Israelis are racists who have systematically done all they could to take advantage of the Ethiopians without giving anything in return. Indeed, there was the video of violence against a member of the Ethiopian community by policemen.
Such violence cannot be condoned, and already the relevant authorities have taken steps against those responsible.
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However, was this incident really outstanding and unique? Was this the first time that the Israel Police used excessive force against someone? Hardly. There was the police brutality in Amona in February 2006 against innocent youths whose only crime was demonstrating peacefully, sitting inside nine houses scheduled to be razed. Indeed, a comparison between the Amona events and the demonstrations by some in the Ethiopian community this past week is illuminating.
Police brutality in Amona was very different.
Yehiam Eyal’s skull was cracked by the police, leaving him hanging between life and death.
Miraculously, he survived. Yet this is what Haaretz had to say about the incident in an editorial on February 2, 2006: “On the night between Wednesday and Thursday people prayed for the health of 14-year-old Yehiam Eyal...they accused the police who clubbed him. Yet even those whose heart goes out to the child lying helpless in his bed cannot fail to see the cynicism and viciousness of this emotional manipulation...Even if there was a policeman who used excessive force one may ask what were these children doing at the Amona hilltop on the day of its forceful evacuation?”
In Jerusalem last Thursday and again on Sunday, members of the Ethiopian community clashed violently with the police. In contrast to Amona, where the demonstrators did not raise even a hand against the police, these demonstrations saw violence, too much violence, coming from demonstrators. On Sunday, they closed off the Ayalon highway, causing huge disruptions in traffic, reminiscent of the big demonstration organized by former MK Moshe Feiglin against the Oslo process, back in the summer of 1995. Closing off traffic is not only illegal, it is a violent act. The police, who were quick to arrest any demonstrator during the year preceding the 2005 expulsion from the Gaza Strip and North Samaria who so much as indicated with her or his foot that they intended to block a road, in this case allowed the disruption to take place.
As a thank-you note, the demonstrators proceeded to go to the Rabin Square in Tel Aviv and eventually hurled rocks, bottles and whatnot at the police and then accused the police of employing excessive force. The number of wounded police officers vastly outnumbered the number of wounded demonstrators. All the wounded demonstrators were released from hospital in less than 48 hours; unlike in the Amona case, no demonstrators were seriously hurt.
How did the media respond to the Ethiopians? They employed excessive empathy, going out of their way to show understanding for their actions and motives, reminding us all the while how badly we as a society have reacted to this community. No one asked, for example, who funded the buses that brought thousands to the demonstrations.
Consider the following comment made by Yuval Ganor, the anchor of the 7 a.m. news program on Kol Yisrael, prior to interviewing Knesset chairman Yuli Edelstein on Monday: “As someone who was stuck in the traffic jam resulting from the demonstration, one may say that the majority of the Israeli public is very understanding, identifies with their [the Ethiopians’] feelings.” One wonders what Ganor’s sources of information were. But let us not be so small-minded. Ganor was just expressing his understanding that the media represents the majority of the Israeli public.
Consider a second example: Keren Neubach, also from Kol Yisrael, who opened her 8 a.m. program with her usual personal comments, noted that the country had come to a standstill and that this was a positive development.
It would seem, she added, that nothing will ever change in the shoddy and discriminatory attitude toward the Israeli of Ethiopian descent. One should ask why was it so urgent in that case for the police to disperse the protesters the way they did.
Neubach was not even honest enough to remind listeners that the police acted only after allowing the demonstrators to stop traffic for hours in Tel Aviv.
Niv Raskin on Galatz at 8 a.m. interviewed Genatu Mngistu, one of the organizers of the demonstration. He did not ask him why he should not be jailed for breaking the law and blocking traffic. Rather the questions went as follows: “What was your feeling at the end of the demonstration? That you succeeded in creating an agenda in the media or that someone harmed your struggle? In the aftermath do you think that you will move toward public office? To have influence?” Raskin then interviewed Yaron Ohayon, deputy commander of police in Tel Aviv.
These were his questions: “What were your instructions to the large forces who were there? Did you see groups of anarchists, leftand right-wing organizations who stoked the fires? People talk about the outrageous ease with which the police strike and are violent only due to the skin color, many complaints of this sort have surfaced...,” and so it continued.
The same accusatory style was used by Asaf Liberman, the anchor of the 7 a.m. news program on Galatz.
The truth is that the true racists in this whole sad series of events were the media themselves. Their treatment of the Israeli Ethiopian community was as if they were different from other Israelis. The laws of this country, which outlaw violent demonstrations, seemingly are not applicable to Israeli Ethiopians. The leaders of the demonstrations are not innocent babes, but criminals who illegally stopped traffic, demonstrated without a permit and should be prosecuted for their actions. At the least, these questions should have been posed, but they were not. Rest assured, if these same actions had come from “the settlers,” the calls denouncing them would come from almost everywhere, and justifiably so.
It is not racist to assert that the law applies to all, Israeli Ethiopians, Arabs, haredim (ultra-Orthodox), residents of Judea and Samaria and the homeless. We simply wish to remind our media that, as our sages put it, “Without the fear of government, one would swallow his brother alive.”
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (