Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Netanyahu late on racism in Israel

Violence or any form of attack or discrimination against an Israeli often meets massive public outcry, wide media coverage and accusations of antisemitism. But minorities in Israel, including Israelis of African descent face discrimination and racist abuse, including police brutality with little or no outcry or strong condemnation by Israel's ruling elite or members of the public.

Thousands of Israeli Jews of Ethiopian origin took the streets in the centre of Tel Aviv to protest against racism against black Israelis in Israel. The anti-racism protest, according to Reuters, was sparked by a video showing two Israeli policemen punching and beating a black Israeli soldier. Prime Minister Netanyahu met the soldier who was assaulted by the police, and said he was "shocked" by the incident. According to The Jerusalem Post the Prime Minister's office announced after a meeting between government officials and members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community that a plan to deal with the problems facing the community will be brought to the new government.

While the incident involving the police brutality incident acted like a catalyst for protests, it worthy to note that cases and reports of racism and discrimination against minorities in Israel are abound and span many years. Many people around the world are familiar with reports of discrimination against Arabs in Israel -- stock in a system that many people like the Guardian's award-winning Middle East correspondent Chris McGreal say bears resemblance to apartheid in South Africa. But the plight of black Israelis - predominantly from Ethiopia - isn't as widely covered and discussed like the plight of Arabs, although Israelis of African descent struggle with "deep-seated" race problems in Israeli society.

Over the years, politicians in Israel, including Prime Minister Nathanyahu have played the race card in an attempt to win votes. Most notably, on the day of Israel's election which took place March 17, 2015, Natanyahu said "Arab voters are coming out in droves" to vote in a bid to inspire Jewish voters. Now, pause for a second and imagine what would happen if a world leader somewhere says that "Jewish voters are coming out in droves" in a bid to energize his base.

Israeli officials confirmed in the 1990s that they threw away blood donated by Ethiopian Israelis out of fear that it could be infected with HIV and other diseases. In 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said refugees, whom he referred to as "illegal infiltrators flooding the country", threaten the identity of the Jewish state. In 2013, Israel admitted that it sterilized Ethiopian Jewish women without their consent. The aforementioned are all offensive instances where people were targeted because of their race or colour of their skin.

Another Israeli politician in the name of Eli Yishai who served in Netanyahu's government once called for mass arrest, imprisonment and deportation of all African migrants on trumped up claims that they are all criminals.

My View

It is a good thing that Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have come to senses and has taken a stand against racism suffered by black Israelis. Meeting the Isaeli soldier who was beaten by police, and convening a meeting between representatives of the Ethiopian-Israeli community and top government officials were all moves in the right direction. But expressing "shock" over blatant racism against black Israelis is not enough. The Prime Minster should also take steps to redress despicable discrimination and inequality against Palestinians and Arabs in Israel. Racism in Israel goes beyond the Ethiopian- Israeli community.

Natanyahu must take responsibility for the spread of racism in his country. His well-documented comments about Arabs and African migrants sent a wrong to the majority Israeli population that minorities, including Arabs and people of African descent pose an identity threat to the Jewish state. His irresponsible comments incited racism and hatred in Israeli society hence he should not be "shocked" by the outcome.

The Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new-found commitment to "fix Israeli society" after anti-racism protest in Tel Aviv is welcomed. Concrete steps must be taken to curb latent racism and discrimination against Israel's ethnic minorities, Jews and non-Jews. Words won't be enough. Concrete steps should include the Prime Minster and other politicians and government officials refraining from making comments that fuel racial, ethnic and religious hatred against minority groups.

Minority groups in Israel on their part should continue to demand equal treatment. Where there's silence injustice thrives. They should continue to speak up and protest if need be, peacefully of course. Violence should be avoided and condemned by both protesters and security forces responding to protests.

Israel often tries, in vain of course, to justify discrimination and segregation within its borders by pointing to security concerns and the threat of terrorism. But the punching and beating of an Israeli soldier of African descent by Israeli policemen clearly had nothing to do with national security or fending off terror. It had everything to do with deep-seated racism in Israeli society. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's impressive reaction to the incident was long overdue. The Prime Minister has been part of the problem for years by fostering an atmosphere of "us and them."

Mindful of the fact that people who condemn Israel's actions in one way or the other run the risk of being dubbed antisemitic or accused of incitement against Jews, it's worthy to highlight in closing that I am not antisemitic. I merely oppose domination and oppression of one by another, Jew or non-Jew, black, coloured, white or whatever, Christian or non-Christian, Muslim or non-Muslim.


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