Racism is a worldwide abomination. This tragedy occurs throughout many countries, races and faith groups. One recent tragedy was an unprovoked beating of a “black” Ethiopian Jew by “white” policemen in Israel. This is particularly bizarre as Israelis originally were a “brown” Semitic language speaking race and are currently as diverse in race and background as any population. Ethiopians appear to be a mix of these Semitic speaking tribes and a sub-Saharan population, with the strong and obvious Semitic line coming from frequent migration and invasion from the north and east.
How Judaism came to Ethiopia is in some dispute. Some believe Ethiopian Jews are descendants of the lost Hebrew Dan tribe. Others believe they are descendants of the entourage that accompanied Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. Leaders from within the Ethiopian Jewish community argue that they are descendants of Jews who left the conquered Kingdom of Judah for Egypt following the destruction of the First Temple in 586BC.
hat Ethiopian Jews fled their home country primarily because of open prejudice and danger in Ethiopia is a particularly tragic element of the recent beating story. Today, there are about 130,500 Ethiopian Jews living in Israel and trying to integrate. Most came to the country in two secret airlifted operations by Israeli agencies in 1984 and 1991.
After the April 2015 beating in Israel, tens of thousands of the Ethiopian Jewish minority took to the streets and protested – sometimes violently – against racial profiling and police brutality. Racism has many sociological-psychological aspects too deep to contemplate in a short blog. But in Israel, it has been insidious, springing out of a partially hidden but deep-seated racism.
Despite an emotional welcome as fellow Jews, European and Middle Eastern Jews quickly began to make Ethiopians second class citizens. Many Ethiopians live in impoverished areas in Israel. According to the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, they earn 40 percent less than the average Israel income, and 38.5 percent of them live under the poverty line while the general rate stands at 14.3 percent.
“After being beaten up, after being brutalized again and again and being discriminated against, many Ethiopians wind up in jails,” Dr. Fentahun Assefa-Dawit, Executive Director of Tebeka, an advocacy organization for equality and justice for Ethiopian Israelis, told the Shanghai Daily newspaper.
He added that 40 percent of minors in the Ofek correction prison are of Ethiopian descent although Ethiopians compose only 2 percent of the general population. “When an Ethiopian applies for a job, as qualified as he might be, as impressive as his CV might be, he is not going to be invited for the interview because he has an Ethiopian name,” he added.
In 2012, a TV show exposed that doctors in the Israeli public health service had been injecting Ethiopian women with Depo-Provera, a contraceptive, without their consent or knowledge. The sweeping use of Depo-Provera drove a 50 percent decline in birth rate in the Ethiopian community. A year later the Ministry of Health instructed doctors to stop prescribing the injections.
Other horrid examples of racial prejudice include medical facilities destroying donated Ethiopian blood for fear of HIV infection and ultra-conservative Rabbis refusing to marry Ethiopian Jews as “non-Jewish.”
The Apostle Paul wrote that God shows no partiality (Rom 2:11), and Jesus said that “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). Racism is an abomination to God, and it should be to any of us who love God.(It should be noted that the Israeli policemen who beat up the Ethiopian were suspended from their jobs. After the Ethiopian Jewish protests, Israel’s ceremonial president Reuven Rivlin told the Daily Mail newspaper that the country was seeing “the pain of a community crying out over a sense of discrimination, racism, and of being unanswered … We must look directly at this open wound. We have erred. We did not look, and we did not listen enough,” he said. “We are not strangers to one another, we are brothers, and we must not deteriorate into a place we will all regret.”