Likud lawmaker dismisses Justice Ministry’s anti-racism czar

David Amsalem, a minister within the Justice Ministry, fires Aweke Zena; claims role lasts 6 years, not 8 as ministry officials say; the attorney was on a coalition party blacklist

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Aweke "Kobi" Zena, coordinator of the National Anti-Racism Unit at the Justice Ministry. (Courtesy)
Aweke "Kobi" Zena, former coordinator of the National Anti-Racism Unit at the Justice Ministry. (Courtesy)

Likud lawmaker David Amsalem, who serves as a minister within the Justice Ministry, reportedly fired the head of the government’s Anti-Racism Coordinating Unit before his term was over.

Aweke “Kobi” Zena, an attorney who served as the coordinator of the office since 2016, was informed of his termination two weeks ago after he returned from a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Channel 12 news reported on Saturday.

Though Amsalem claimed in a statement that the role was only meant to last six years, officials in the Justice Ministry told the Haaretz daily that roles like Zena’s typically last eight years.

Amsalem said in his statement that he intends to appoint someone new to the position.

The unit was established on the recommendation of a commission set up by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of nationwide protests in 2015 over the beating of an IDF soldier of Ethiopian descent at the hands of police.

That team is charged with identifying government policies that entrench and perpetuate racist practices and recommending reforms, as well as receiving and following up on complaints by aggrieved citizens.

File: Likud MK David Amsalem reacts during a discussion and a vote on the state budget at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Zena, an immigrant from Ethiopia, is a career prosecutor who has previously served in the IDF Military Advocate General’s Corps and the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s office.

A list drawn up in 2019 by the anti-LGBT Noam party outlining the party’s perceived opponents in the media and in civil society put Zena’s name and the unit under the title “Control of the Justice Ministry by leftist organizations.”

An annual report by the anti-racism unit released in March found that Ethiopian immigrants and Arab citizens were disproportionately targeted by the justice system in 2019-2022. According to the report, 35% of cases were opened against Arab citizens, despite only being 21% of the population, while 3.5% of cases were opened for Ethiopian citizens, despite their making up 1.7% of the population.

Also, the unit found that 4.26% of criminal indictments involve Israelis of Ethiopian descent, while 31.6% of those charged are Arab citizens.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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