Thousands March in Jerusalem Protesting Racism Against Ethiopian Israelis, Call for 'Social Justice'

Protesters block a major road, march in front of the Knesset, holding signs reading 'Blacks and Whites - We're all Equal,' 'Social Justice'" and 'Our Blood is Only Good for Wars.'

Some 5,000 people demonstrated in Jerusalem on Wednesday to protest racism against Israelis of Ethiopian descent.

The protesters blocked a major road in the capital and marched in front of the Knesset, holding signs that read, "Blacks and Whites - We're all Equal," "Social Justice" and "Our Blood is Only Good for Wars."

Ethiopian Israelis - Olivier Fitoussi - 19012012
Olivier Fitoussi

Several Knesset members joined the rally outside the Knesset, including opposition leader Tzipi Livni, Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich, Meretz leader Ilan Gilon and MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima ).

Among the protesters was Mulet Araro, a 26-year-old student who set out on foot to Jerusalem from his home in Kiryat Malakhi on Monday, in his own protest against racism and discrimination.

The demonstrators demanded legislation against racism in all walks of life in Israel, and against racism in schools in particular.

"This is a historic day for the community of Israelis of Ethiopian descent. Finally youngsters with shining eyes came out to fight for our place," said social activist Daniel Bahart.

"We have achieved everything we wanted in this protest. We raised a discourse against racism, against the institutions that discriminate against members of our community, against racism in academia, in employment...Everywhere the doors are closed to this generation. This generation was born in Israel, grew up here, dreams in Hebrew and is now saying enough," he said.

Uri Brihon, head of the organization United Ethiopians that initiated Wednesday's protest and was among the organizers of last week's protest in Kiryat Malakhi, said "we are very pleased by the turnout. It showed the people up there [in the Knesset] that here we are getting together and there's a strong community here that isn't going to give up. At some point they will have no choice but to answer us.

"The next step in our protest will be even bigger," said Brihon. "People have started to wake up now. Daphni Leef also wanted to speak at the demonstration," he said, referring to the leader of the summer's social protests, "but we felt it wasn't the right place, because we're still divided. But we will certainly want to continue marching with the organizers of the summer protest, once we've decided on our way."

MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima ) said before the demonstration, "it's time the government and Israeli society wake up. Each and every one of us is responsible for fighting racism, for the future of our state and children. Only together can we make a change."

Michael Eitan (Likud ), minister for the improvement of government services, said when Araro ended his march in Jerusalem: "The suffering of these immigrants did not end on the way to Zion but continued during their absorption, sometimes due to a mistaken wish to create an Israeli detached from his past, tradition and cultural uniqueness.

"In a few hours a demonstration of the first generation of Israelis of Ethiopian origin that were born in Israel will begin. They complain about Israeli society's offensive treatment of their skin color, their spiritual leaders, food, music and unique culture. How sad to realize we haven't learned from past mistakes," said Eitan.