It wasn’t just another protest. It was anarchy, which began in the positive sense. There was no guiding hand. There was enthusiasm. There was rage. Swarms of Israelis, not only dark skinned, moved together from one intersection to another to chant repetitive slogans against racism.
There were Israelis there from all streams. Many of them, for example members of a military preparatory program, arrived with flags of Israel. And there were many soldiers there, with and without uniform. “What are you doing here?” I asked the non-Ethiopians among them. “We came to show solidarity with our fellow unit members who are suffering from discrimination,” they replied.
The protest which paralyzed Tel Aviv on Sunday was a furious, justified and pivotal protest. The turning point arrived after several hours of calm. It’s unclear how it began. There may have been hot-blooded people among the protestors. In mass protests there is always a violent minority. And the police shamelessly lost their patience.
Why? Why respond with smoke grenades? Why not practice restraint? The masses arrived to protest against violence, so why the hell is there a need for such an aggressive police response? When it comes to police violence against Ethiopians in recent years, there is a fear that there are more violent provocateurs among the police than among the protestors.
And despite the unpleasant ending, we should remember the main thing. First of all, that it was an Israeli protest rather than an Ethiopian protest. The solidarity came from the right and from the left. Secondly, Israel suffers from enclaves of racism. We are exposed to the tip of the iceberg. Here are there, there are clubs which still practice color-based discrimination. In the past, the veteran Mizrahim were the ones who suffered the most. Now it is mainly the new Mizrahim. The Ethiopians. Their color stands out more, much more.
Worse than the “private” discrimination is the state discrimination, by the police. It is a lot less tolerable. It is outrageous. And it happens too much. While Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino did suspend the beating officers, the increase in racist incidents calls for a much more serious self-examination.
It’s less important that 90% of Israelis oppose this violence. It’s much more hurtful when the Ethiopians feel, again and again, humiliated by those who should be defending them. It’s painful. It’s frustrating. And to add insult to injury, the police went out of control on Sunday, and the smart restraint was replaced by another display of pillars of smoke and fire by the police.
All of us, not just the police, should turn this protest into a turning point. Because it’s not us and them. It’s us, only us.
Reprinted with author’s permission from YNet News