Amid racist incidents targeting African migrants in Israel, more and more Ethiopians are reluctant to be seen in characteristically African areas, to avoid becoming the accidental victims of a violent attack, or racial slurs.
During one of the protests against the African migrant communities in June, Hananiya Venda, an employee of the Israel antiquities Authority and a blogger, was mistaken as Sudanese, and attacked by the crowd. Following the incident, Elias Inbram, a lawyer, had a special t-shirt printed, which read “I’m not an African infiltrator.”
Similar incidents are becoming more and more prevalent. Doc Antenehb, head receptionist at a hotel in Netanya, said that recently, he was called to the reception desk to deal with a guest who was furious over his bill, and made a scene in the lobby. “I came to calm him down,” said Antenehb,” and he began to scream at me ‘go back to Africa, cushi [a Hebrew equivalent for the N-word], dirty Sudanese,’ and he spit on me, in front of my son.”
“Then I lost it. I didn’t go crazy, but I made him leave the hotel. Beforehand, I had already called the police to report that a customer was making a scene, and they told me that they were taking care of it, but no police officers arrived,” said Antenehb.
He continued, “The customer then went outside and called the police, claiming that a Sudanese person attacked him. I’ve never seen the police arrive so quickly. An officer arrived, and told me, ‘get in the car,’ and began to make accusations. ‘You’ve taken over the country, don’t worry, we’ll kick you all out. No one is giving me 3,000 Euros,’” said Antenehb.
The officer arrested me on the basis of a claim from one angry man, who said I attacked him. The security guard on duty at the hotel went outside, was astonished to see me in the patrol car, and explained the police officer who I was. In the end, the police officer apologized and we made up. Listen, if I sued everyone who called me ‘cushi,’ I’d be in court every day,” said Antenehb.
When he went to vacation at a hotel in Eilat, Antenehb was stopped at the entrance, and told “the workers entrance is around the back.”
“I wasn’t in work clothes, I was holding my children. Anyone with commence sense could have realized the difference, or at least try to clear it up politely ‘which room are you in?’” said Antenehb.
“I understand people from Eilat though; there they are full of foreigners. Often when I go for a cup of coffee, they tell me, ‘No work, no work.’ My neighbor told me, ‘Ethiopians are better than Sudanese,’ so I asked him, ‘what’s the difference, really? Do you know the dangers of crossing the border to make a living? You work to buy an iPhone, he works to survive,’” said Antenehb.
According to Antenehb, his wife is afraid to walk around southern Tel Aviv. “My wife is Russian, and doesn’t let me go there. I told her I had a craving for injera [an Ethiopian flat bread]. She cried, panicked, and told me not to go. I’m raising my son, preparing him for the cruel world. He’s an outstanding student in writing and math. I tell him, ‘be the best of the best, don’t be a cushi, be the smart, good cushi.’”
Doc deals with some aspects of discrimination in a creative manner. For example, he glued his picture on to his credit card. “Every time I make a purchase, they ask to see an ID, and it holds up the line. They never ask to see my wife’s ID,” said Antenehb.
Mesi Aychek, who holds an MA in public policy, and works for the Association for Civil Rights, is in a similar situation. “Today, someone in the street approached me and asked if I want to clean an office. Why would I be looking for work in cleaning? Then he asked me if I knew someone else. I asked him, why do you think I would?
There have been worse incidents, however. Until the apartment she rented opens up, Mesi has been living with her friend, D. After D employed an African worker to clean her house, she began to find notes under her door, which specified the punishment one can receive for employing African migrants.
“After I saw the notes, I asked him not to come for a short while. Once Mesi moved in with me, people assumed that she had replaced him, and they started the threats again, this time on my door, in the elevator, and the entrance. I didn’t check who left the. I don’t know how I could. The first time, I was disgusted, and shocked. With Mesi, what xan we do but laugh?” asked D.
“It’s upsetting, the things people resort to. The fact that threats were left anonymously also leaves an unpleasant feeling,” said Mesi.
Doc Antenehb feels a difference since the start of a campaign against asylum seekers.
“There is more fear," he says. "Someone told me that they’re all rapists. I asked him if he’d ever met a rapist. Anyone, even Rothschild’s son, could be a rapist. When I went to an outing with people from my wife’s job, they were shocked. They told her, ‘I never imagined you’d be married to a cushi.’ I said, ‘I just got overcooked, that’s all.’ I prefer to laugh it over. Before I got married, we were afraid to tell one of my wife’s relatives that I’m Ethiopian. On my wedding day, I put white-out on his table, and said, ‘Today I’ll color myself for you. Today we’ll be good friends.’"
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