Ethiopian Israelis and Our Struggle Against Racism

10 July 2019

“I lost a boy.”

My heart breaks to read those words from Vorka Teka, the grieving father of Solomon Teka z”l.

It has been just over a week since Vorka’s son Solomon was shot dead by an off-duty police officer in a public park in Kiryat Haim, a suburb of Haifa in Northern Israel. As Vorka and the Teka family emerge from shiva, the formal seven day grieving period, they not only grieve the loss of their son Solomon — because they hold another, collective pain.

This week Vorka Teka gave voice to that collective pain, imploring Israelis to understand that “the terrible frustration that stems from Solomon’s murder and from another eleven previous instances of murder of members of our community in the past few years.”

It was this righteous anger, this desire for justice and equality that drove Israelis in such masses into the streets to protest. Because the tragedy that Solomon’s family faces now didn’t start with Solomon.

This is the second lethal shooting of an Ethiopian Israeli youth at the hands of police this year. On January 30, Israeli police shot and killed Yehuda Biadga, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent, who was suffering from mental illness.

Last week thousands took to the streets demanding an end to police brutality and racism. Led by Ethiopian Israelis and their allies from across Israeli society, demonstrators blocked twelve major junctions across Israel, bringing traffic on the main highways across the country to a standstill and dominating the national conversation — making Israelis pay attention to the question of racial discrimination. Their message is simple: Shachor, Lavan, Kulanu Bnei Adam” — Black, White, We’re All Human.”

The Israeli right — among them, Likud politician Nir Barkat and Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair — would prefer to deny these protests are an organic expression of anger and demand for accountability and justice by painting the protests as fomented by foreign funds. They tried to find conspiracy — of the New Israel Fund, George Soros and the German government — where there was none.

Their tactics won’t work.

Because there are moments in a country’s history when a society sees an unvarnished side of itself that it would prefer to ignore. Like when national television in the United States put the stark injustices of segregation in the South in black and white – showing the fire hoses and attack dogs Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Conner set loose on those non-violent protesters demanding their civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama.

Israel is having one of these moments right now. The Ethiopian Israeli community is holding up a mirror and forcing Israelis to grapple with institutionalized and systemic racism they cannot tolerate any longer.

Efrat Yerday, the chairwoman of the NIF grantee the Association of Ethiopian Jews, is telling us that brutality against Ethiopian Israelis is reaching a state of emergency.

And veteran Ethiopian Israeli activist Avi Yalou is telling us that Black Lives Matter is not just a struggle facing African Americans, but for black Israelis, too. And he is calling on his fellow Israelis to struggle against racism and violence with him.

It’s up to us to stand with our partners in the Ethiopian Israeli community and demand police accountability and an end to over-policing, over-incarceration and racist treatment at the hands of the Israeli Police. And to continue to stand up for the right of Israelis to protest unjust policies non-violently.

That is where we will be. The New Israel Fund will be there whenever Israelis are standing up for equality, democracy and justice.