Confronting Racism and Police Violence

31 January 2019

Nearly two weeks ago, Israeli police shot and killed Yehuda Biadga, a 24-year-old resident of Bat Yam who is of Ethiopian descent. Police claimed that he approached an officer with a knife, and that Biadga ignored an order to stop.

In fact, Biadga was suffering from mental illness when he was killed, and police were told this before they arrived at the scene. His family, and other leaders of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, have criticized the police for having a light finger on the trigger.

“When a terrorist comes to carry out an attack they say ‘don’t shoot’ and if you do shoot, then at the legs. But when this is a citizen they shoot at his upper body — that isn’t normal,” Biadga’s brother, David, told the Israeli press.

In America, we have been living for some time with the knowledge that people of color are far more likely to be killed by police than white Americans are. Israel, sadly, appears to be wrestling with a similar demon. This incident is not the only case of police brutality that has targeted Israel’s black population. And recently-retired police chief Roni Alsheikh has famously commented that it was “natural” for police to treat Ethiopian Jewish citizens of Israel as criminal suspects given what he claimed was a high rate of crime around the world among immigrant populations.

NIF has long invested in protecting the rights of the Ethiopian community in Israel. And one of our grantees, Tebeka – Justice & Equality for Ethiopian Israelis, has even worked with the police to improve training, to get police to wear body cameras, and to have dozens of Ethiopian-Israelis hired onto the police force.

This work, however, is only part of the answer. Countering racism effectively also requires establishing societal norms that call it out and reject it. That was the motivation behind the demonstration that was held in Tel Aviv yesterday, organized as a response to Biadga’s killing, which drew 10,000 Israelis together to declare that black or white, they are all Israelis.

NIF is proud to stand with them.