- Massive protests rocked Israel on Sunday, as several thousand Israelis blocked main streets in Tel Aviv in protest of discrimination against members of the Ethiopian Jewish minority.
- The protest was sparked by a video of police assaulting an Israeli-Ethiopian soldier, and reflects a sense among Ethiopian Israelis that they're discriminated against by police and by Israeli society more broadly.
- Though the daytime protests were mostly peaceful, the police and protesters clashed by evening. Protesters attacked police cars, and the police used water cannons, gas, and nightsticks to disperse them. At least 46 people, including about 23 officers, were injured.
The horrifying video that sparked the protests
The protests were sparked by an especially egregious police assault captured on camera. Damas Pakada, an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier who was in uniform, was standing by a bicycle in an area the police were attempting to clear. Without any obvious provocation, an officer shoved Pakada off of the bike, and hit him as another officer arrived. It's disturbing stuff:
According to Pakada, who survived the beating, the officer told him, "I can do whatever I want" and that "I'm doing my job — and if I need to put a bullet in your head, I would do it."
Ethiopian Israelis don't see this as an isolated incident.
"Ethiopian-Israeli citizens strongly believe that they are discriminated against and harassed," Guy Ben-Porat, an associate professor at Ben Gurion University, told the New York Times. "Young Ethiopian males in particular feel the police are out to get them and that they won't get justice."
But Ethiopian Jews are upset about more than police violence: there's a broader sense that they live on the margins of Israeli society.
"Just over half live below the poverty line. They are underrepresented in public service and overrepresented in jail," the Los Angeles Times's Batsheva Sobelman writes. "Forty percent of those held in the Ofek prison — a jail for minors — are of Ethiopian extraction, far above their 2% representation in Israeli society."
Israeli leaders, for their part, are trying to address the protestors' grievances and seem to be taking the incident very seriously. Naftali Bennett, chair of the Jewish Home party (a right-wing party that is a member of the ruling coalition), visited the protest on Sunday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Pakada on Monday.
"We cannot accept this," Netanyahu told the soldier. "The police are dealing with it, and we will need to change things."