Ethiopian immigrant -  Michal Fattal - 19012012
An Ethiopian immigrant at an absorption center near Jerusalem. Photo by Michal Fattal
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A Jerusalem bus driver has been suspended after the disclosure of his racist invective against Ethiopian schoolchildren, which was recorded by one of the youngsters.

"People tell you that you smell bad, deal with it. Put on deodorant every day. You'll smell better," the driver was heard saying in the recording made by a sixth grade schoolgirl who is driven to school every day by the driver. "You need to respect us. We were living here before you, our lives are much more modern," he said. When one of the girls answered him: "We apologize for being Ethiopian," he was heard responding: "We are also sorry that you're here. I get along fine with Israelis, but with you I have yet to get along. You will never change, you stay the same [expletive] all the time."

Yordenos Godetta, a sixth grader from Mevasseret Zion, a suburb of Jerusalem, said she had decided to record the driver's comments because it wasn't the first time he had insulted her and her friends. According to Godetta, the Ethiopian kids also take abuse from other children.

"When we got on the bus on Sunday morning on the way to school, there were three Israelis and the rest, 11 students, were Ethiopian," she said. "One of the Israeli kids told the driver, "open the window, it stinks of Ethiopians in here." Godetta said the driver made the remarks after the bus arrived at the school and the other children had gotten off. "He also said the kids throw up all the time in his bus because of some spice we Ethiopians put in the food." Godetta said she and the other kids played the recording they made for the principal, who lodged a complaint against the driver, Eyal Bachar, with the company that employs the bus driver.

The bus company, A. Barazani, said its management had summoned Bachar, a Jerusalem resident in his 40s, to explain himself. Bachar admitted that he had made the remarks, but said they were made in the heat of the moment, because according to him, children of Ethiopian origin vandalize his vehicle. He has been suspended and the company is likely to fire him. Bachar said in response to the recording: "It's nothing personal against them - perish the thought. I had an Ethiopian girlfriend. They are simply very mischievous children and the Israeli children behave very nicely. I asked them a few times in a well-meaning way if they could use deodorant. I am very sensitive to this smell. Once I even went out and threw up. I am not a racist; I never was. On the contrary...the Ethiopian children also said things to me that were not nice. They said to me personally more than once: 'You are a smelly white man'...When I told them that the odor is smelly, I didn't mean that they smelled. I personally really apologize. I know Ethiopians. Individually I have no problem."

Bachar said he meant well when he said the Ethiopians should learn from modern people. "All in all I love them. Sometimes I would caress their cheeks, because sometimes they'd be OK. But only sometimes. It's not from hatred. I apologize if there was a racist tone. I hate people like that," Bachar said, referring to racists.