The Tel Aviv Labor Court last week ordered an Israeli man, Saul Ben-Ami, to pay NIS 71,000 ($19,000) in compensation to his former employee Awaka Yosef, an immigrant from Ethiopia, for referring to him with the racist slur “kushi,” Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Sunday.
The incident reportedly began when Yosef, an eight-year veteran at a gardening company that employs 150 people, noticed that his wages had been lowered without notice. When Yosef challenged his boss about the discrepancy, Ben-Ami reportedly responded “Who are you, you kushi? Go home.”
The term kushi derives from the biblical Kingdom of Kush, which was located in Africa, south of Egypt. In modern Hebrew, the word has become a pejorative for dark-skinned people.
Yosef, 51, said he was offended by the response and immediately resigned. However, he didn’t let the matter slide, and after consulting with an attorney, the father of three decided to take his grievance to court.
“When the manager called me a kushi I was very hurt,” Yosef said. “It felt as though he was treating me like a dog, and so I decided to resign. I wasn’t prepared to have him curse me and talk to me like that. I don’t have to take it. Kudos to the judge for ruling in my favor.”
Ben-Ami denied that he had used the word, and even that he had lowered Yosef’s wages. But after finding contradictions in his testimony, the court ruled that Yosef’s wages had indeed been reduced unilaterally, that the term kushi was used to humiliate him, and that it was thus unreasonable to expect Yosef to remain at the company.
“Such statements are grave, and they have no place in the workplace,” wrote Judge Oren Segev in his decision. “It is a racist term that was intended to humiliate and degrade a man just because he is from the Ethiopian community and because he has dark skin.”
The court also ordered Ben-Ami to pay NIS 13,000 ($3,500) in court fees to Yosef, the report said.