By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
It’s difficult to prove that the demonstration in Jerusalem last night was inspired by what has been happening in Baltimore in recent days, but it had too many similarities for us not to make the connection.
A large number of Israelis of Ethiopian origin demonstrated in the centre of the capital. When the police didn’t let them come close to the prime minister’s official residence, where many demonstrations usually take place, some threw stones and bottles. The police responded with tear gas and water canons. A few officers and several demonstrators were injured. Arrests were made.
The demonstration was organized in response to a seemingly unprovoked vicious beating by a policeman of a young Israeli soldier of Ethiopian origin. The TV channels showed us the video. Doesn’t it sound ominously similar to what’s happening periodically in the United States, most recently in Baltimore?
Unfortunately, Jews aren’t immune to racism, though they’re among its victims, and some police officers in Israel aren’t immune to brutality. In the Diaspora we’ve normally kept the racism to ourselves, but “at home” some of us have lost our inhibitions. We have indeed become like all other peoples.
Ethiopians aren’t the only visible minority in Israel that’s subject to prejudice and occasional violence. The most frequent targets are Arabs, especially when walking in “Jewish” areas, e.g., on the beach in Tel Aviv. Some try to hide their origins and not speak Arabic in public. It reminds me of my childhood in post-WWII Poland, when I was told never to say anything that would point to the fact that I was Jewish.
A protest demonstration is about to be held in Jerusalem when Jews will come out in considerable numbers, travel on public transport – and speak loudly in Arabic. It’s a kind of Israeli equivalent to the kippa demonstrations in European cities when non-Jews put on scull caps in protest against the not infrequent incidents when Jews in recognizable Jewish attire are attacked. I myself have been warned on two occasions when visiting Stockholm not to wear a kippa in public.
Racism in Israel isn’t confined to attacks on Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews of Ethiopian origin. Many Oriental Jewish citizens of the land have complained over the years of being the victims of overt and covert prejudice by the Ashkenazi “elites.”
Religion doesn’t seem to be a barrier. We read periodically of Ashkenazi ultraOrthodox schools and other institutions trying to keep out Jews from Arab countries, even though they have the same ultra-Orthodox orientation.
That’s why, I surmise, there’re not only two “chief rabbis” in Israel but also two ultra-Orthodox political parties – the Sephardi Shas and the Ashkenazi Yahadut Hatorah – currently both negotiating for much more than they deserve in order to join the government, and each trying to score points over the other.
Though the United States has a black president, blacks still have a hard time in the country. Though Israel has become what it is thanks to the massive aliyah from Arab lands and North Africa, the Jews who came from Europe (direct or via some other country) whom we know as Ashkenazim behave like every other white majority in the world. Not all Jews are guilty but all Jews should feel responsible.