Israeli leaders Rivlin and Netanyahu react to Ethiopian protests

A protest by Ethiopian Israelis like the pictured protest from 2006 evolved into violent clashes between the protesters and Israeli police on Sunday. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

( Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said that the violent protests that have erupted in Israel in recent days by Ethiopian Israelis protesting against racism and discrimination have “exposed an open, bleeding wound in the heart of Israeli society.”

In clashes between thousands of demonstrators and police forces in Tel Aviv, protesters hurled stones and bottles at police officers, overturned a police vehicle, and forced the shutdown of a highway. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons. More than 60 people have been wounded and 40 arrested, according to the Associated Press.

Rivlin acknowledged the grievances of the Ethiopian Israeli community, which numbers about 120,000 people and whose members began immigrating to Israel 30 years ago, and said Israel was seeing “the pain of a community crying out over a sense of discrimination, racism, and of being unanswered.”

“We must look directly at this open wound. We have erred. We didn't look, and we didn't listen enough,” he said. “We aren't strangers to one another, we are brothers, and we must not deteriorate into a place we will all regret.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there is no room for violence and disturbances like these," but also met with representatives from the Ethiopian community and with Israel Defense Forces soldier Damas Pakada, who was beaten by two police officers in an incident that was caught on film, in order to foster dialogue about the issue and calm tensions. The incident with Pakada is being compared to how the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore sparked protests in that city. 

Netanyahu also met with Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, and representatives of Israel's Public Security, Social Affairs and Social Services, Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, and Interior ministries.

"I unequivocally condemn the beating of the soldier from the Ethiopian community and those responsible will be brought to justice, but nobody has the right to take the law into their own hands," Netanyahu said last week. "Immigrants from Ethiopia and their families are dear to us, and Israel is making great efforts to ease their integration into society."

Posted on May 4, 2015 .