Ethiopian Israeli Leader: Outsiders Sparked Violence at Tel Aviv Protest

Unidentified groups 'stirred things up,' says one organizer; others claim situation got out of control because there is no real Israeli Ethiopian leadership.

Tomer Appelbaum

Many of the youths who demonstrated Sunday night in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square assert that they saw outsiders – who are not members of the Ethiopian community – fomenting the violence against the police.

“Both last week and yesterday I warned that this could spin out of control,” Meni Yasu, one of the organizers of the protest, told Haaretz Monday. “A large part of the blame for the incitement can be attributed to organizations that joined [the demonstration], and we could not identify who they were, but one could say they were certainly not members of the community.”

According to Yasu, the police also had a hard time controlling the outsiders:

“We don’t know who the organizations are, who leads them and whose interests lie behind them. It's a handful that stirs things up, and the police also recognized this, but I don’t understand why they didn’t manage to kick them out.”

He added: “As evidence, we marched for hours on the Ayalon Highway, and afterward we gathered at Rabin Square and there was no violence. Everything was restrained and we ran a proper demonstration.”

Yasu said he was sure that outsiders instigated the violence because that is not the community’s way of acting or what it was looking for.

“We wanted to blow off steam,” he said. “What happened yesterday will happen again. The prime minister must take some time from assembling the government and deal with our protest.”

Tali Malko, who attended the demonstration Sunday night, added that marchers were generally quiet and shouted from time to time as they progressed toward Rabin Square, but there were some individuals who tried to forcefully block intersections, blocking cars from passing with their bodies.

“They were not our guys,” she said. “They were shouting the whole time and tried to drag in everybody. They were very dominant. [Later] at night, I saw one of them under arrest.”

Hours before Sunday’s demonstration, there were arguments on various Facebook groups of Ethiopian Israelis whether to hold the protest, which some were afraid would be taken over by NGOs with different social agendas.

“I didn’t want to demonstrate because I saw that those trying to pull the strings were not from the community, but rather people trying to exploit our lack of leadership,” says Or Tzagai. “But we don’t need leadership because it’s a popular struggle. We don’t need politics.”

'No leadership'

Still, there are those who were present in Rabin Square who maintain that the agitation came not from outside forces, but rather members of the community.

“The discourse around this idea that it was anarchists is incorrect,” says Natan Malese. “At the beginning, I saw various organizations who tried to control the protest, but they didn’t manage and they pretty much gave up. In the evening, mainly Ethiopians were in the square. It was an absolute majority. There was great rage and no control of this. There’s no leadership and no messages, just a big group of youths who see reality, police violence, and take to the streets.”

He added that every Ethiopian Israeli has undergone such experiences, “and if not him than his brother has.”

There is no leadership, according to Malese, because that would constitute civil disobedience.

“Until now, community leaders were the kind that come from the establishment, which appointed them from above,” he explained. “They take someone from the Absorption Ministry, someone from a special council and a policeman – and the only common denominator they share is that they are Ethiopians. But the public didn’t choose them.”

Malese asserted that the whole protest originated in Facebook and spread on WhatsApp.

“The only thing that can calm things down right now is if the policeman they saw hitting the soldier in the video clip is tried, and when the family of Yosef Salamseh gets answers,” added Malese, referring to the Israeli Ethiopian who committed suicide in July after allegedly being the victim of police brutality in March 2014.