When the Ethiopian Jews began arriving in Israel in large numbers, back in the mid-1980s, they found themselves embraced — strangled is a better word — by ultra-secular groups looking to use them to attack the Chief Rabbinate.
The issue at the time was the requirement that they undergo conversion due to the fact that they had been cut off from mainstream Judaism for so long. Extremists in the secular camp with an interest in casting the Chief Rabbinate as backward and heartless — thereby undermining its legitimacy in the public eye — convinced the Ethiopians that the conversion was a most egregious insult and bused them to a park in front of Heichal Shlomo in Yerushalayim for prolonged protests. What followed was a show of disrespect for religious leaders, so uncharacteristic of Ethiopian Jews, which not only didn’t help them, but actually made it harder for them to gain acceptance among religious Jewry in Israel.
Needless to say, their ultra-secularist “friends” couldn’t care less. They got what they were after: favorable media coverage and a black eye for the Rabbinate.
Nothing’s changed in 30 years. The legitimate protest that was held Sunday in Tel Aviv was hijacked by anarchists and extremists from the left and right who incited to violence. Who says so? Gennato Mangistu, one of the protest’s organizers.
“We demonstrated quietly from the early hours of the day,” he told Army Radio on Monday. “We later blocked traffic on the Ayalon highway without violence, without any policeman getting hurt. But when we got to Rabin Square we encountered groups of anarchists, people with an agenda. They ruined the demonstration for us. They threw the first bottles at police and incited our young people.”
While Mangistu refused to name names, Deputy Tel Aviv District Commander Brig. Gen. Yoram Ohayon told Yediot Aharonot that “different sorts of anarchists, ‘Lo Nechmadim,’ ‘Hamaabara,’ are taking part in the protest.”
According to Arutz Sheva, these two groups comprise the Forum for Public Housing, which is coordinated by Shatil, the social change and political lobbying organization of the radical leftist New Israel Fund (NIF), as listed by the NIF website.
The New Israel Fund has a track record of portraying Israel to the world in a negative light. According to NGO Monitor, it is funding groups closely associated with the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.
The deputy Tel Aviv District commander said that these NIF-connected groups egged on the Ethiopian protesters to breach agreements made with the police, setting the stage for the violence.
Why would the New Israel Fund have an interest in turning peaceful demonstrations into bloodbaths? Why would it benefit from scenes of Ethiopians being arrested and hauled off to police wagons?
The answer is obvious: Because it wants to portray Israel as a racist country that discriminates against its minorities. It wants to undermine Israel’s justly earned image as a compassionate, democratic country that has repeatedly opened its doors, and heart, to wave after wave of immigration.
That’s not to say that Israel is perfect. It’s taken Moroccan Jews, for instance, a long time to gain parity and other groups, including chareidim and “settlers,” have suffered their share of discrimination.
The Ethiopians have legitimate beefs. Their protests, which began last week in Yerushalayim, were perfectly in order. They were sparked by a video showing a policeman in Holon beating up Damas Pakada, a kippah-wearing Ethiopian soldier. The soldier’s humiliation touched a raw nerve among the Ethiopian community which cried out “enough!”
Enough to being relegated to menial jobs that pay them 35 percent less than the average in Israel. Enough to being confined in caravans because there is no housing. Enough to being denied educational opportunities and adequate representation in the government and elsewhere.
The problem is that while the demonstration that organizer Mangistu planned was capable of arousing sympathy among the Israeli public and effecting change for the positive, the one that the anarchists pulled off only succeeded in stirring feelings of alienation and set back progress toward full integration.
The anarchist-orchestrated violence did a disservice to Israel — it isn’t fair to cast Tel Aviv in the same light as Baltimore — and to the Ethiopians.
It certainly isn’t too late to undo the damage. The prime minister took the right step Monday in meeting with the soldier who was beaten and with leaders of the community, and other political leaders are calling for reconciliation.
“We must take special care not to reach a civil [war], although I fear we are already on the brink,” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein warned. “The State of Israel is an impressive example of immigrant absorption. Let’s keep that safe.”