Tel Aviv and the major roads leading in and out of it were brought to a near-standstill Wednesday afternoon as over a thousand Israelis of Ethiopian descent and their supporters blocked several key thoroughfares and junctions in protest of alleged institutional racism and racist police brutality.
Although the demonstration was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m., dozens of protesters arrived earlier and immediately spread across the Begin-Kaplan intersection, adjacent to the Hashalom railway station, stopping traffic in all directions.
The demonstration, which has a police permit — but not to block the intersection — began at Tel Aviv’s Azrieli complex and was set to continue in the direction of the city’s Rabin Square. The number of people participating were expected to swell into thousands during the late afternoon and evening.
The LGBT community put out a call for its members to support the rally, Channel 12 reported. Police securing the event have been instructed to show restraint, the report said.
The protest was called amid mounting anger after a police officer shot dead an Ethiopian-Israeli man earlier in the month. Yehuda Biadga, 24, was killed January 18, in his hometown of Bat Yam as he charged at the officer with a knife, police said.
Police have denied Biadga’s ethnicity was connected to the officer’s decision to open fire, saying he felt a credible fear for his life. An investigation was opened into the incident and the shooting officer has since been placed on leave.
Rally organizers are demanding that the government hold an emergency meeting over the shooting and launch a special investigation led by a judge, separate from that of the police’s internal investigation department, which is already probing the matter.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he had ordered that all police assigned to the protest be equipped with body cameras. The announcement came after Tebeka, a nonprofit organization providing legal support for the Ethiopian-Israeli community, urged he take the measure “in order to prevent the next unnecessary violent incident,” Hadashot TV news reported.
Last week, Erdan launched a project to equip all police in the Tel Aviv region with body cameras, equipment which is not yet standard issue in the Israel Police force.
More than 135,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, most of them having immigrated in two waves in 1984 and 1991. But many have struggled to integrate into Israeli society and there are lingering accusations of discrimination.
Community leaders and others have said there is a pattern of racism and abuse by police toward Ethiopian-Israelis, despite promises to root out the problem.
In 2015, a large demonstration in support of the Ethiopian community against police brutality and racism turned violent, transforming the city center into a veritable war zone. At least 41 people were injured in the hours-long melee, which saw protesters hurl rocks at police, and officers respond with stun grenades and water cannons.