Updated July 15th, 2019 at 8:05 AM New York Time
It has been almost two weeks since a young Ethiopian by the name of Solomon Tekah was gunned down by a police officer in Haifa and the Israeli government has done little to assuage the outrage felt by the Ethiopian-Israeli community. To the contrary, steps that have been taken have been to minimize the justified anger of protesters and to defend the actions of the police officer by vilifying the victim.
Some find it politically expedient to focus on rioters and gloss over the legitimate frustrations of a community that has been targeted for exclusion for more than two decades. Rather than realize that the violence that was sparked by the death of Solomon was a symptom of being treated like second-class citizens, some within Israel are painting Ethiopian Jews’ fury as the root cause of their mistreatment.
Antisemitism in any form must be called out irrespective of the identity of the offender. When some choose to be silent while acts of antisemitism are being committed against brown skinned Semites, this act of uneven treatment arouses a spirit of animosity that endangers all Jews.
Ethiopians in Israel are not expressing resentment in a vacuum, there have been copious cases of abuses and maltreatment that have been committed against them by individuals and on a governmental basis. In 1996, the Israeli government acknowledged that there was a secret policy to discard blood donations from all Ethiopians. Ethiopians likewise face denial of finance and housing accommodations on a regular basis by virtue of their skin color alone. In perhaps a most shocking revelation, a Forbes report in 2013 noted that Ethiopian women were forced to undergo sterilization without their knowledge nor consent. These are heinous practices that were rightfully condemned as barbaric acts when they were committed against Jews by Goebbels and his henchmen, are these acts any less horrific when they are being practiced against brown skinned people?
When people feel hopeless and are trapped behind the ghettos of systemic bigotry and racism, resentment usually boils over into violence. The Warsaw Ghetto rioters were not thugs who broke laws out of criminality, they were human beings who defied repression by any means necessary. The riots that rocked America when Martin Luther King was assassinated were not an indication of “black” incivility but an act of resistance to Jim Crow, segregation and decades of state sponsored terrorism against “African-Americans”.
In the same way, Ethiopian Jews who vented their indignation by taking to the streets and expressing their emotions are not thugs but human beings who have had enough of being treated like pariahs. Instead of judging them and casting aspersions, Israeli officials should reach out with a hand of forbearance and give the Beta Israel community some sense that their demands will be redressed. To their credit, there have been some officials who have taken this course of action and addressed the wide-spread racism that maroons too many Ethiopian Jews in the isolation camps of bleakness and despair.
But for every one government official who lends an olive branch of temperance, there are too many who insist on pilling on to the fire of injustice by minimizing the concerns of Ethiopian Jews and otherizing them based on the color of their skin. Yesterday, it was announced that the officer who killed Solomon Tekah would be released from home confinement as the inquiry is looking more and more like an exoneration attempt on behalf of the officer instead of a quest for justice. One would almost get the sense that the needless death of a young Ethiopian-Israeli, who took his last breath before he could see his first child, will become just another statistic and forgotten in a flash.
Which begs this question: does “never forget” apply only Jews of a certain shade? Does injustice only matter when the victims are European and glossed over when the targets are of a browner shade? This is an inflection point for Israel, will Jews in Tel Aviv and beyond follow the advice of Elie Wiesel who once noted:
“Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.”#Ethiopia|n Jews are telling #Israel and the world, through tears and acts of desperation, that they are being persecuted because of their race. Will they be the center of the universe or will their pains be forgotten? #Justice4Solomo Click To Tweet
There are some within Israel who are tempted to discredit Ethiopian Jews, to this crowd a reminder must be given. Let us never forget that the community who are referred to Beta Israel did not convert to Judaism in Europe but are direct descendants of Judah who trace their lineage to King Solomon and Queen Makeda of Sheba. This is, after all, why Israel flew in Ethiopian Jews from Sudan and Ethiopia under the auspices of Operation Moses and Operation Solomon. This is not paint with a broad brush and assign collective guilt for that too is immoral; American-Jews stood shoulder to shoulder with African-Americans during the Civil Rights Struggle in the 50’s and 60’s, we pray that Israel embraces that spirit of humanity instead of reverting to the ugly face of segregation and institutional racism.
Imprisoning a life will not restore a life that was taken. An eye for an eye will not heal the hearts of Solomon’s mother, father and his family and friends who grieve in his absence. Now is not the time for vengeance but a time for reconciliation. What is needed the most is compassion by those who wield power for those who are powerless. We ask the Israeli government to listen to the frustrations of Ethiopian Jews, not not vilify them in the court of public opinion and take steps to remove the ghettos of racism that imprisons too many.
Updated July 9th, 2019 at 8:04 AM New York Time
Once again, the supposed “free press” and the international community are both largely silent while Ethiopian Jews—a people who can actually trace their lineage to Judah, King Solomon and Queen Sheba—are treated as second class citizens in Israel. It seems that some are only interested in antisemitism when hatred is expressed against a certain shade of people, but when antisemitism is being committed by the Israeli government and large sectors of Israel’s society that actively excludes Ethiopians, who are part Semite, then mum is the word and the so-called “free world” turns a blind eye while injustice is taking place in Tel Aviv and beyond.
Ellie Wiesel once noted that collective punishment is evil and also stated “wherever injustice is taking place that place must become the center of the universe”. Sadly, Wiesel’s words are largely ignored when it comes to the treatment of Ethiopians in Israel. After Israel airlifted Ethiopian Jews, otherwise known as Beta Israel, out of Sudan and Ethiopia during Operation Moses and Operation Solomon, instead of being integrated into society and given a fair shake at life, most Ethiopians have been put behind the ghettos of racism and systemic bigotry that has turned them into pariahs in the eyes of too many Israelis.
Last Monday, this malicious treatment of Ethiopians, which included rejecting blood donations from Ethiopians by blood banks and forced sterilization of Ethiopian women, came to a head when a police officer shot and killed a 19 year old boy by the name of Solomon Tekah. Decades of pent up frustration boiled over as Ethiopians took to the streets to express outrage at the unjust death of the son of Beta Israel and the continued repression of Israelis based on their skin color. Instead of being compassionate and reaching out to express empathy, Yair Netanyahu, the son of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accused the demonstrators of being agents of Germany in a slick attempt to marginalize protestors by tying them in with Europe’s ugly history of antisemitism and tried yet again to otherize Ethiopians in Israel. Though mainstream media largely ignores the plight of Ethiopians in Israel, the world is observing the uneven treatment of brown skinned people in Israel. It is sad that the grandchildren of holocaust survivors, who know very well the pains of being persecuted and excluded with yellow armbands for no fault other than their birth, turn around and apply the same mendacity their forefathers felt in the ghettos of Berlin, Warsaw and beyond to those some in Israel consider “undesirable”.Is "never forget" forgotten when the Jews who are singled out for persecution and prejudice are of a browner complexion and come from a different part of the world? #Ethiopia #BetaIsrael #Israel Click To Tweet
As Lij Teodrose Fikremariam, the Chair of Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy and a direct descendant of a Solomonic emperor by the name of Atse Tewodros II, notes in an article he penned about the history of Ethiopian Jews and the intersection of all three major faiths, we have to stop fighting over God and seek to do His will. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all religions of peace that teach about love for fellow humans and standing up for justice. When we see malfeasance, we must not sprint towards our tribal corners but unite in order to speak up for equality and justice.
This is not to imply that all Jewish people are guilty of bigotry, as noted earlier collective punishment is evil. To the contrary, Jewish people in Israel and throughout the world are kind and loving people. It’s always a few who consolidate power and commit atrocities in the names of others; we ask Jews everywhere and all friends of justice throughout the world to speak up for Ethiopians in Israel and to stand up on behalf of rule of law and equality for all.
“Never be afraid to speak out on behalf of justice for bigger terrors await when society turns deaf ears to human suffering.” ~ Lij Teodrose Fikremariam
Most of the world does not know the history of Ethiopia and biblical Israel, the truth of Ethiopia’s connection to Judah and the intersection of King Solomon and Queen Sheba who had a son named Menelik I. It is through Menelik I’s lineage that the Solomonic Dynasty was birthed. Find out more about Ethiopia’s connection to true Zion below.