Court Fines Boss for Racial Slur Against Ethiopian Employee

An Israeli courtroom. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Tel Aviv Labor Court has ordered a manager at Israel Military Industries to pay a former employee in his department a settlement of NIS 30,000 — for calling him “black.” According to the court, the term — and the way it was used — was insulting to the employee, who hails from an Ethiopian immigrant family.

The incident occurred two years ago. According to the employee, the manager, in response to a question posed by another manager, said that he didn’t know the answer, but that he should “ask the black guy.” The employee said that he asked the manager to apologize, telling him, “I have a name, and I should not be referred to by my skin color.” The manager refused to apologize, and several days later, the employee approached the manager, recording their conversation.

The recording, which was played back on Channel Two, has the employee again saying that he had been insulted by the comment, with the manager saying, “The term is not meant to insult. All I said was that you are black. If you were fat, I would have said, ‘Ask the fat guy.’ Aren’t you black? I didn’t mean to insult you, and if I did I apologize.” In response, the employee says, “I am an Israeli of Ethiopian background. Do you not understand that what you said is insulting?”

The manager then dismisses the complaint, saying, “You are just looking for an excuse to be insulted. You are a black Ethiopian. Look in the mirror. All the Ethiopians… racism, racism is all I hear. This is not racism, to say that you are black.” The manager then asks another employee what color the complainant is, and that employee confirms that he is indeed black.

The complainant’s attorney told Channel Two after the court’s decision that it was an “important addition to the case law on racism and respect for others. The term ‘black’ by itself is not an insult, but it was as used in this situation. Sometimes ordinary words can be used inappropriately, in an insulting and racist way.”