Israel’s Ethiopian community denounces racism ahead of election | News

by Zelalem

Netanya, Israel – More than two months after 19-year-old Solomon Teka was shot dead by an off-duty policeman, members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community continue to hold protests across Israel demanding racial equality.

“Justice for Solomon and all those killed,” chanted a dozen protesters in the northern city of Netanya on Saturday night, as they lit candles and waved colourful posters.

Teka’s killing in June in Kiryat Haim, near the port city of Haifa, sparked outrage among Ethiopian-Israelis. Days of anti-racism demonstrations, in which tens of police officers were injured, shook the country and blocked major highways in Tel Aviv.

Despite the swift arrest of the police officer involved in the killing, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issuing a video to mourn Teka’s death at the time, protesters say not enough has been done.

The officer, who has said that he felt his life was under threat at the time of the shooting, was released on bail from house arrest on July 15 and was expected to be charged with reckless homicide, a less serious crime than manslaughter, Israel media reported the Ministry of Justice as saying.

The protesters say they want any CCTV footage of the incident to be released, in the belief that it could shed further light on what occurred.

“We won’t stop protesting until we get justice for Solomon Teka,” said Gil Elias, a 41-year-old lifeguard who came from his hometown of Herzliya to attend.

The protesters accuse the police of using violence against their community and say their young men live in fear of being targeted or harassed by the police.

They refer to an incident in January, when 24-year-old Yehuda Biagada, another young Ethiopian-Israeli, was shot and killed by a police officer in a Tel Aviv suburb.

The police say Yehuda had charged at them with a knife, but his family and members of the community say he was wrongfully killed.

Israel's black community

Gil Elias, a lifeguard from Hirzilay, has protested regularly since the killing of Ethiopian Israeli teenager Solomon Teka at the hands of a policeman in July. [Raja’y al-Khatib /Al Jazeera]

‘Anyone but Bibi’

The protests come ahead of a general election on September 17 which pits Netanyahu against his main rival Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White alliance.

Although the Ethiopian community, which makes up about 2 percent of the electorate, has traditionally voted for right-wing parties, with many supportive of Netanyahu’s Likud party, community members say recent events will influence the way they vote this time.

“In the black community, especially among the older generation, Bibi is like a father,” said Betty, a 26-year-old NGO worker from Tel Aviv. “They think he keeps us secure [from external threats].

“But after two murders in the same year with Bibi staying silent, many young people are challenging the status quo,” she explained, adding that her vote will go to a new left-wing party established by a member of her community.

Terry Tessema-Cohen, a 40-year-old nurse from the northern town of Amec Heffer, agreed that many in her community voted for Bibi in the past.

“But that’s changing. I pray to God that my community will not vote for Bibi Netanyahu,” she said, adding that the government has done little to counter racism in Israel.

She recalled that some patients have at times referred to her as “negro” while refusing her as part of the treatment team because of the colour of her skin.

Despite these difficulties, Tessema-Cohen, like most members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, says she loves her country and wants to see it as a real democracy where people are treated equally.

“I love Israel and all I’m doing [protesting] is for the sake of my country to be better,” she said.

Israel's black community

Terry Tessema-Cohen is a 40-year-old nurse who says she wishes to see Israel become a real democracy one day where black and white people are treated equally. [Raja’y al-Khatib /Al Jazeera]

‘Everyday racism’

Israel’s Ethiopian community numbers about 140,000 of almost 9 million people.

Most are descended from immigrants who arrived in the 1980s and 1990s, including tens of thousands that Tel Aviv airlifted to Israel at the end of the civil war in the African country.

With more than 50,000 of the community born in Israel, most Ethiopian-Israelis, especially among the younger generations, identify as Israelis first.

According to the Association of Ethiopian Jews (AEJ), Ethiopian-Israelis accounted for 15 percent of female and 10 percent of the male incarcerated soldiers during their service in 2017, although they made up only four percent of Israeli soldiers.

The organisation said only 34 percent of Israeli-Ethiopians met university entry requirements in 2007, compared to an average of 60 percent among the wider population.

For Betty, the reason she continues to protest goes beyond the issue of police brutality.

“Daily life for an Ethiopian-Israeli is full of racism. Even our Jewishness is doubted at times,” said Betty, as she explained that members of her community experience institutional discrimination at every level.

“Whether it’s in the military or in education, there is no way up for us. We’re always at the bottom,” she told Al Jazeera.

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