Ethiopian Jews have suffered discrimination by the Israeli state, which has been intelligent enough to divide ethnic groups to ensure there will never be a joint fight against racism.
Last Sunday, Solomon Teka, 18, an Ethiopian Jew and an Israeli citizen, was shot dead by an off-duty Israeli officer in the city of Haifa.
This latest shooting is one of several deaths, seemingly targeting this specific community carried out by an officer. Protests and riots erupted in Israel in places like Tel Aviv, Haifa, and occupied Jerusalem, causing further clashes with authorities. The Ethiopian community is continuing its long fight against police brutality.
Protestors told AFP that they want assurances from the state that incidents such as this will not occur again. Just this January a mentally-ill 24-year-old with PTSD from serving in the Israeli army was killed by an officer. The young man of Ethiopian descent was carrying a knife, but reports insist he posed no threat. At the time, this caused 15,000 people to come out in protest.
Subtle and overt racism in Israel is not strange. With several different ethnic populations, there is a clear preference for Ashkenazi (Jews of Eastern and Central European descent who are white caucasian) in matters of social, economic and political concern. This superiority can even be read in a report by the Times of Israel on the ongoing protests by the Ethiopian community.
The report reads: “Ethiopian Jews, who trace their lineage to the ancient Israelite tribe of Dan, first arrived in Israel in large numbers in the 1980s, when Israel secretly airlifted them to the Jewish state to save them from war and famine in the Horn of Africa.
“The new arrivals struggled with the transition from a developing African country to the increasingly high-tech Israel. Over time, many in the community, which today numbers around 150,000 out of the Jewish state’s 9 million citizens, have been able to make their way into mainstream Israeli society, serving in the military and police and making inroads in politics, sports and entertainment."
The language here depicts one community, presumably superior, saving another from destitution and marked how difficult adjusting to “modern” society has been – despite being written in support of the Ethiopian community.
Even more frightening racism towards the Ethiopian population is what can only be slated as population control. Until 2013, women were coaxed into taking birth-control injections, unaware of what they were, which led to an almost 50 percent decline in the population. A report from Ha’aretz explains the testimony of 35 women, which was presented on an educational TV programme.
It reported: “The women’s testimony could help explain the almost 50-percent decline over the past ten years in the birth rate of Israel’s Ethiopian community. According to the program (sic), while the women were still in transit camps in Ethiopia, they were sometimes intimidated or threatened into taking the injection. ‘They told us they are inoculations,’ said one of the women interviewed. ‘They told us people who frequently give birth suffer. We took it every three months. We said we didn’t want to’.”
But this comes as no shock to other groups living in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Mizrahi Jews, or Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent, were and continue to be subject to severe discrimination. Since the inception of the state, the Mizrahi were subject to ghettoisation, cultural theft, and medical experimentation. Most disturbing of all was the alleged kidnapping of hundreds of Yemenite babies during the years 1948-1956.
Although the Zionist establishment viewed Yemenite Jews as being the most “authentic” Jews, they were still seen through the prism of the East, infected with a disease that could only be cured through a dosage of Western acculturation. “Why destroy the diaspora in Yemen and bring these people who will harm us more than help?” asked Yitzhak Grinboim, Israel’s first interior minister. “By bringing 70 percent of ill Yemenite Jews, we will harm both us and them.” While they are “full” citizens today, many still feel discriminated against.
However, do these struggles within the Israeli system have any commonalities with the Palestinian struggle? Possibly, but that in no way means that it is a joint fight against a corrupted system.
The full force of the Israeli state is propagated against the Palestinians on a daily basis, the Jewish citizens, while truly discriminated against, have a voice within the state. Thus allowing protests, petitions, lawsuits, and other agents of change that are closed off from Palestinians.
The Palestinians in the West Bank, unlike the Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews, exist outside the Israeli system and seeks to de-legitimise the state as an occupier.
Added to this is the severe disconnect between the Palestinians, Mizrahi, and Ethiopian Jews. While some highlight the intersectionality of the struggle, for example, an interesting piece in The Forward notes the connection at the time of the formation of the state: “Mizrahi-Arab solidarity wasn’t just an intellectual argument: It translated into joint street protests, which the Israel Police cracked down on by using heavy force. Trying to prevent interaction between the groups, one officer told a Bedouin who had been speaking to Mizrahim in Beersheba, ‘For you, it is permitted to visit the city, but it is not right for you to talk to the population’.”
There is evidence of a history of a somewhat joint struggle; however, rather than nurture this, it seems the contrary has happened. The state’s de-Arabisation projects pushed Mizrahi Jews away from other Arabs, to create a new loyalty to the state above all. Records indicate that both Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews are subject to disproportionate ID checks because they resemble the ‘enemy’, further pushing apart the two struggles.
Added to this: “Mizrahi-Jewish activist Tom Mehager argues that deploying Mizrahi – or Ethiopian-Israeli soldiers in this way isn't just about the assignment of low-status roles within the army, but also about offloading the violent and conflict-heavy aspects of the occupation onto non-whites.”
Yes, indeed it would be ideal if all those oppressed by Israel united against its racism and the occupation of Palestine, but the state functions in a much more intelligent way than it is given credit for.
It has systematically separated the ethnic groups to weaken the possibility of a joint fight. To highlight their success, in the most recent protests against police brutality, graffiti appeared on walls, presumably by a protestor, reading “Arab = Terrorist”. Despite acknowledging the violence of the state, they do not recognise that it is unjustified against Arabs.
To understand just how disproportionate the struggles are today, it is unimaginable that the Israeli state or its forces would by any means permit an Arab protest when unarmed Arab youths are killed. To understand just how disproportionate the struggles really are today, we must ask how many unarmed Palestinians have been killed and received the same attention, let alone justice?
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