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Ethiopian Jews Continue to Protest Discrimination

Ethiopian Jews Continue to Protest Discrimination

Ethiopian Israelis staged another protest Wednesday night in the heart of Tel Aviv, blocking the heavily-trafficked Begin Road. Some protestors had been promising violence, and some minor scuffles did break out after 8 p.m. Israeli time, but the protest was much smaller than those at the beginning of last month that saw thousands of Ethiopian Israelis turn out to protest discrimination and police violence.

In the wake of those protests last month, the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) released a statement that condemned the violence in the protests and called on Israeli society to fully incorporate Ethiopian Jews into all walks of life. Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), offered ideas on how to address the problems highlighted by Ethiopian Israelis,

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.

During the past month, Israelis have been reckoning with the aspects of society that have led to these protests, a reckoning that has cut across political divisions. There have been a number of interesting opinions on the issue:

  • In the left-leaning Haaretz, columnist Anshel Pfeffer revisits the evacuation efforts that led Ethiopian Jews to Israel and highlights all Israel has done to incorporate Ethiopian Jews
  • In the widely-read Yediot Aharonot, leading center-left columnist Nahum Barnea asserts that the protests are justified and points to a root cause of racism
  • Also in Yediot Aharonot, protesters talk about why they showed up to protests, from police violence to night club discrimination
  • In the Jerusalem Post, reporter Ben Hartman compares and contrasts Ethiopians in Israel to the protests in Baltimore

Tensions are certainly strained, but it’s important to remember that these protests point to Israel’s need to include Ethiopian Jews in society over the long term. The IMPJ, along with the Israel Religious Action Center, has worked for years to empower Ethiopian Israelis. The IMPJ’s fund for social responsibility and humanitarian assistance, Keren B’Kavod, provides direct service, educational, cultural and social support to the often-underserved Ethiopian Israeli community. Anat Hoffman has also highlighted IRAC’s leadership on this issue,

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.

 As Israel starts to learn more about the plight of Ethiopian Jews, you can do the same by visiting the IMPJ website, the IRAC website or the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s page on World Jewry.

Jonathan Edelman is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Jonathan graduated in 2014 from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is originally from Jacksonville, FL, where he is a member of Congregation Ahavath Chesed.

Jonathan Edelman
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