President Rivlin to Ethiopian Israelis: We've Failed to Listen to You

Prime Minister Netanyahu meets Ethiopian-Israeli soldier whose pummeling by police sparked protests in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

President Reuven Rivlin attempted Monday to address claims of racism and police brutality against Israel's Ethiopian community after two demonstrations by the group and their supporters grew violent and ended in riots and clashes with police.

Rivlin said Israel must look upon the "open and bloody wound" which the protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem revealed. He made the comments during a meeting with the local leaders from Israel's ultra-Orthodox community.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, November 3, 2014.Credit: AP

"I cannot ignore the disturbing images we witnessed last night and Saturday evening. We cannot ignore the pain, distress and rage voiced by Israelis of Ethiopian origin, the majority of whom were born and raised here," the president said.

"Protesters in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv revealed an open and bloody wound in the heart of Israeli society. This is a wound of a community sounding the alarm at what they feel is discrimination, racism and disregard of their needs. We must take a good hard look at this wound.

"We've erred. We have failed to see and listen enough. Among those protesting in the streets, there can be found the best of our boys and girls, excellent students and former soldiers. We must give them answers."

Also Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with a soldier who was attacked by immigration officials, sparking the recent round of demonstrations.

Sunday's protest ended in violence, and, according to the police, 43 people were arrested at the demonstration. Fifty-five police officers were lightly wounded, and one sustained moderate injuries. Paramedics treated 12 protesters wounded in the clashes.

Rivlin addressed the violence, saying "protest is a vital part of democracy, but violence is not the answer and not the solution."

Addressing claims that the protest was predominantly non-violent, but deteriorated because by what the police called "inciters", Rivlin said that "Protesters and police maintained their calm throughout the protests, and we must not let a small group incite violence and riots, and silence the legitimate protest."

Sunday night's violence was the second such protest in several days, and demonstrations are expected to continue.

About 120,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today, a small minority in a country of 7 million. Their absorption has been problematic, with many arriving without a modern education and then falling into unemployment and poverty as their family structures disintegrate.

Ethiopian Jews trace their ancestors to the ancient Israelite tribe of Dan. The community was cut off from the rest of the Jewish world for more than 1,000 years.

Israeli clandestine operations rescued large groups of Ethiopian Jews from war and famine in the 1980s and early 1990s. Later waves of immigration also included the Falash Mura, members of a community that converted to Christianity under duress more than a century ago but have reverted to Judaism.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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