Ethiopian Israelis are adhering to the family’s wishes and will not protest the government’s handling of Avera Mengistu’s absence after he crossed into Gaza 10 months ago.
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Activists say the family has decided to lower its profile, even though, as a family friend put it last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lack of communication with the family “may very well be linked to the color of his skin.” But the family itself is not claiming racism.
“The family has requested that the story not be tied to the ethnic issue; instead they’re noting that Avera is an Israeli citizen,” said Ziva Mekonen Dagu, the head of the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews.
“I agree, of course, but it seems the country doesn’t see him; he’s not present. After all, if they had thought he was an Israeli citizen, not an Eritrean, they wouldn’t have let him go into Gaza,” she said, referring to the thousands of Eritrean asylum seekers who have entered Israel via Sinai in recent years.
“I respect the family’s request not to start a battle; we’ll talk about this failure when the time comes.”
Fentahun Assefa Dawit, the head of the group Tebeka that seeks equality for Ethiopian Israelis, said it was “no secret” that the family wanted to lower its profile. “It could be that in the past few days they’ve heard new things that we don’t know about,” he said.
“When we tried to help in the past few months, we were told secret operations were going on and it was better to wait and see what happened,” he said, adding that this situation had changed with the lifting of the gag order last week. Mengistu is believed to be held by Hamas.
“We will act according to the family’s wishes, but at the same time we’ll seek contacts with every organization possible in order to get Avera freed,” Dawit said.
Other activists, who requested anonymity, said initial plans for protests had been frozen based on the wishes of the Mengistu family.
In recent weeks, Gabriel Tigbo, a leader of the Ethiopian community in Ashkelon where the Mengistus live, has worked with the family.
“The family’s position hasn’t changed and we accept their request to act with restraint and not demonstrate,” he said. “The family will wait for a few weeks to see how things progress, and after that will meet and decide how to act.”
In Ashkelon, Ethiopian Jews plan to demonstrate at the end of the month against the way the southern city treats the community. But Tigbo says the protest will respect the family’s wishes and not mention Mengistu.
“As far as the family is concerned, his case isn’t one of racism, so there’s a separation between the cases,” he said.