Hundreds of Ethiopian-Israelis Clash With Police in Tel Aviv Protest

Demonstrators protest 'police racism,' and deride decision to close criminal investigation into police officer who manhandled an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier.

Ido Efrati
Yaniv Kubovich
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An Ethiopian Israeli lies on the ground after scuffling with in Tel Aviv June 22, 2015Credit: Reuters
Ido Efrati
Yaniv Kubovich

Violent clashes erupted between police and protesters at an Ethiopian Israeli protest in Tel Aviv on Monday.

Police arrested 19 protesters so far, and main roads were blocked. 

Hundreds of Ethiopian Israelis have been protesting since the afternoon against what they say is the police's racist attitudes toward their community, as well as against a recent decision by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to a criminal investigation into a police officer who manhandled Demas Fekadeh, an Ethiopian soldier.

The demonstrators gathered on Monday afternoon by the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv and blocked Kaplan Street, a main thoroughfare. One of them lay down in the juncture of Kaplan Street and Menachem Begin Road, a main intersection, and, when he refused to vacate the site, was arrested and taken in for questioning by police.

The police warned protesters against disturbing the public order.

The protesters waved flags against racism, upon which slogans included "Violent police should be locked up," and chanted phrases like, "We've had enough, we're a new generation." One of the organizers of the protest, Desla Takla, said into a microphone that he expects many more protesters to arrive in the evening. "Guys, be patient. Loads of people are on their way here," he said. "We are going to make history again. We are praying for better days for our community." 

"We are not enthusiasts of protests, but we are unwilling to remain silent. The attorney general closed the case against the policeman, and we will continue protesting until that case is opened," Takla said.  

One of the protesters, Esti Zaviv, from Tal Shahar, said, "We resumed our protest after the (previous) protests were forgotten and nothing changed. We hope it will help."

Also joining the protest are keses, spiritual leaders of Ethiopian Jews, who joined the protest, among other reasons, seeking recognition of their official status. Kes Malko, one of the young keses at the demonstration, said, "Keses don't have rights and they have not yet achieved recognition. All the keses came together to raise this issue."

Prior to the protest, Israeli soldiers of Ethiopian descent an online demonstration calling on other soldiers of Ethiopian descent to "abandon the system that has abandoned you."

Under army directives, soldiers are not permitted to participate in protests and demonstrations. The General Staff wrote that soldiers are unable to take part "in any protest, or any procession or march, that is organized by a non-military authority."

This directive is not enforced, however, and many soldiers attend protests not wearing their uniforms. In one protest organized by Ethiopian Israelis, a soldier of Ethiopian descent was arrested. The army has declared in the past that it will act to change this directive, so that soldiers will be permitted to participate in protests and demonstrations so long as they are unidentifiable as soldiers. This change, however, has not yet been made.