Anti-Netanyahu protest leader accused of racism after comments to Ethiopian cop

Amir Haskel faces criticism from government officials after video surfaces in which he tells policewoman: ‘I brought your parents from Ethiopia, aren’t you ashamed?’

Former Israeli Air Force general and leading critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Brig. Gen. Amir Haskel poses for a photo in Tel Aviv, on June 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Former Israeli Air Force general and leading critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Brig. Gen. Amir Haskel poses for a photo in Tel Aviv, on June 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Former air force general-turned activist Amir Haskel faced criticism Tuesday after a video surfaced of him making contentious remarks to an Ethiopian policewoman while being arrested in August.

In the video, Haskel, surrounded by police, turned to a policewoman of Ethiopian origin and shouted “I brought your parents here from Ethiopia, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

Haskel was apparently referring to the air force’s involvement in operations to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

After his highly-publicized arrest during a peaceful demonstration, Haskel, 66, emerged as one of the prominent symbols of a growing grassroots movement demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu step down.

In response to the video, Haskel qualified his statements Tuesday by saying that his comments came “on the day the [anti-Netanyahu] encampment on Balfour street was illegally torn down in order to serve an event of the prime minister.”

Haskel said that his words had come in response to being threatened and sworn at by police officers during those moments, and that “the attempt to attribute a racist statement to me is baseless, but if there is someone who was offended by it, I am sorry.”

Haskel’s comments sparked outrage among many, including a number of leading government officials.

Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, the first Ethiopian-Israeli cabinet minister in Israel’s history, responded to the video by calling upon all Israelis of Ethiopian origin to hold their heads high in the face of patronizing statements.

MK Pnina Tamano-Shata attends a Knesset committee meeting on July 12, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Our parents risked their lives and walked hundreds of miles with faith and determination to immigrate to Israel. Let no one attribute to himself the story of our heroism and history. Referencing your family origin because of the color of your skin is racism on the part of people who do not understand that there are no masters and servants here. We are all equal Israelis.”

Deputy Public Security Minister Gadi Yevarkan also commented on the video, calling Haskel’s comments racist and condescending to all Israelis of Ethiopian descent.

Knesset member Gadi Yevarkan speaks during a special plenary session to discuss the country’s failure to properly absorb Ethiopian Jews, at the Knesset on July 15, 2019 (Noam Rivkin Fentonl/Flash90)

“Haskel and his friends are sure that the land is theirs. That they are the masters and everyone else is a guest, in the best-case scenario.”

Yevarkan closed his statements by drawing a parallel between Haskel’s comments and the policewoman detaining him. “You were a soldier who carried out an order, just like the policewoman who was sent to carry out a mission she received from her commanders. ”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein responded to the video by calling Haskel’s comments “condescending, racist and outrageous” and said they are “not worth even mentioning.”

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