We Should Have Warned the Ethiopians About Israel's Racism

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Ethiopian Israelis protesting police shooting of teen at Rabin square in Tel Aviv, Israel, July 8, 2019.
Ethiopian Israelis protesting police shooting of teen at Rabin square in Tel Aviv, Israel, July 8, 2019. Credit: Moti Milrod

It was 1985. Journalist Amos Elon (a Haaretz colleague and a friend, until his death in 2009) whispered a big secret into my ear: A secret operation to rescue the Ethiopian Jews was in progress. And he, only he, had received a permit to go there and cover the story. “But not a word!” he said. “Everything is top secret!” The next day he took off for Addis Ababa.

That evening, and in total secrecy, of course, I asked my mother – who knew Elon – whether she knew where he was. She didn’t know. “In Ethiopia,” I whispered to her, in total secrecy, of course. “Ethiopia?” she asked. “What’s he doing in Ethiopia?”

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“Shhh,” I answered. “It’s a secret! An operation is going on. They’re trying to bring the Ethiopian Jews to Israel.”

“I understand,” she said, totally serious. “And Amos went there to warn them?”

We laughed.

Last week I stopped laughing. My mother was right. We should have warned them. We should have told them that the homeland being offered to them is one of the most racist countries in the universe, overflowing with religious, nationalist, ethnic, genetic and gender racism.

Some people console themselves with the belief that this racism is one of the ravages of the occupation. Some aspect of colonialism has crept into us, along with several other despicable attributes of a criminal regime of oppression.

The truth, alas, is otherwise. Israeli racism wasn’t born on the other side of the Green Line. It was born on the day they established a state here whose definition is an oxymoron, a state that lacks a bill of rights as well as an iron wall separating religion and state. In such a country, racism is an inevitable by-product. It’s not the daughter of the occupation, but almost its mother.

On the other hand, the unbearable lightness of shooting human beings (excluding settlers, the ultra-Orthodox and pale-faced Jews) is something we definitely imported from the territories. Slowly but surely, over the years of evil, a convenient and useful killing procedure has developed: You choose a non-Jew, close your eyes, pull the trigger and run to tell the guys. And if by chance an investigation is opened, you quickly mumble the mantras that will ensure your release: “He threw a stone” and “I felt threatened.” End of story.

The shooting of Solomon Teka is a precise illustration of this procedure: shooting, and then death. “He threw a stone and I felt threatened.” And now the shooter is in a hotel. The victim is in a cemetery. Officer B. behaved in an entirely routine manner. In the West Bank nobody would have raised an eyebrow. On this side of the Green Line there’s still an undercurrent of anger.

But not for long. Slowly but surely we’ll progress. After all, that’s the nature of the corruption of the soul. It creeps in slowly but surely until the equanimity arrives on this side of the Green Line, too.

And yet we can’t ignore the anger of the Ethiopian community. They count 11 victims at the police’s hands. It’s not fair. All the other communities are far behind them in this respect. How will we calm them down? Educating the police and attempting to uproot the habits of 50 years of occupation are very difficult missions.

But it’s very easy to order the police to kill 11 young adults from each of Israel’s communities: 11 Russians, 11 Iraqis, 11 French, 11 leftists, then another 11 leftists, 11 Yemenites, 11 Poles and so on. Let all the tribes of Israel unite.

There’s no question that this noble gesture would alleviate the Ethiopians' anger prove to them that no discrimination is going on here. On the contrary, when it comes to killing, there’s absolute equality.

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