Hundreds rallied in Tel Aviv Wednesday evening under the banner of “putting an end to racism,” following a string of discriminatory events against Ethiopian Israelis. The rally was organized in just a few days via Facebook by activists from the Ethiopian community.
A diverse crowd — young, old, white, black, religious, secular, boisterous, and quiet — came out to show support for the Ethiopian community. They danced, listened to rousing speeches, and cheered in Amharic and Hebrew. Speakers repeatedly hammered the point that racism spans many sectors — including housing, education, and work.
“The new generation demands changes!” chanted the crowd, harking back to last summer’s mass social protests, whose tag phrase, “The people demand social justice,” was heard around the country.
Famous Israeli performers headlined the event, including Arkadi Duchin, Alma Zohar, members of the Idan Raichel Project, Zevulun Dub System, and Amharic-language stars.
Yet the mood was not combative. “We are here to exemplify who we are,” Yaala and Der Vabauw, a mixed-race couple from the outskirts of Jerusalem, told The Times of Israel. It was their first time at a pro-Ethiopian rally because they have two small children, a boy and a girl, and do not always have a chance to step away, they said ruefully. “But it’s very important for us to come.”
The soft-spoken Der Vabauw said that his was one of the only Ethiopian families in their community, which is considered a well-to-do area. “But at school, my daughter has a friend who is Ethiopian on both sides, and kids at school call her “kushit [a derogative term for a black person],” he sighed.
He explained that his daughter, Inbal, was only six years old, but that it was important to instill children with the “right” values. “She is embarrassed to use her Ethiopian name, Zevle [patience in Amharic], and that is very sad,” he added.
“Racism is the basis of disease in our country. I mean, it is the opposite of democracy. If we don’t have it, fundamental respect for people, then we lose everything,” said Eddie Gabai, an activist who was prominent in the social protests.
One of the event organizers wrapped up the event by asking the crowd to sing the national anthem. “We are Israelis, after all…We’re okay, and we are patient. Everyone fights in their own way,” she added.
The rally comes as a response to a string of discriminatory events against Ethiopians. Most notable was a decision by homeowners in Kiryat Malachi earlier this month, a city with a 40 percent immigrant population, to refrain from renting or selling homes to Ethiopians. The residents compared Ethiopians to cockroaches and accused them of having foul smells, according to a Channel 2 news report.
People took to the streets in protest and the Knesset’s Immigration Committee held hearings about the social difficulties Ethiopian immigrants face.