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Revisiting Operation Moses

Revisiting Operation Moses

Police brutality. Racial profiling. Abuse of power. These phrases are ripped from the headlines of the past week's newspapers in response to a video, gone viral, showing Israeli police officers beating an Ethiopian Israeli soldier.

The Ethiopian Israeli community has been protesting, demonstrating and organizing. Of course they have been. Israeli citizens of African descent routinely face institutional discrimination in ways that violate our human dignity.

That's why the Israel Religious Action Center was one of the founding members of the Coalition Against Racism, an umbrella organization of more than 40 groups focusing on eradicating racial discrimination in Israel. For 12 years, the coalition has mobilized to combat racism against Israeli Russians, Sephardi Jews, Arabs and Ethiopians.

In the wake of recent events, the coalition is continuing to move forward with its project to address racism in the police force. Our main goals are two-fold.  First, in collaboration with law enforcement leaders, we will work to develop policies, procedures and best practices to ensure that police officers are not above the law, and instead are held accountable for their conduct. Second, we will develop an anti-racism curriculum to teach in Israel's police academy, so that new recruits will learn about equality and human rights as part of their formal training as future police officers.

Over the years, IRAC has listened and helped address the needs of the Ethiopian Israeli community. When we first opened IRAC's doors, we opened our phone lines to Ethiopian Israelis so they could make more than 63,000 free phone calls to family members who were left behind during Operation Moses, the evacuation of Jews from Sudan in 1984. Since then, IRAC's Legal Aid Center has provided free legal support to more than 10,000 Ethiopian immigrants and their families, helping them resolve the bureaucratic and legal obstacles that prevent their successful integration into Israeli society.

The name Operation Moses was supposed to be a symbol of the idea that the redemption of Ethiopian Jews was similar to the Exodus from Egypt.  Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before entering the Promised Land. Thirty years after Operation Moses, Ethiopian Israelis should not have to wait any longer for the equality promised to them in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman
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