Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with an Ethiopian IDF soldier who was beaten by policemen, officials said Sunday, as Jerusalem attempts to calm tensions in the Ethiopian community that have sparked heated anti-racism protests in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that Netanyahu will meet with representatives of the Ethiopian community, including soldier Damas Pakada, on Monday.
A video clip published last Monday showed a pair of policemen beating Pakada, who was in uniform at the time, in the coastal city of Bat Yam, apparently without provocation.
The footage sparked widespread anger in the community and prompted a surge of accusations of lingering institutional discrimination and racism.
Police Commissioner Inspector-General Yohanan Danino is also to attend the meeting, along with representatives from the ministries of Public Security, Social Affairs and Social Services, Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, and Interior, as well as figures from the Union of Local Authorities.
The invitation to meet came as Ethiopian-Israelis and their supporters staged an unauthorized rally in Tel Aviv on Sunday afternoon amid ramped-up protests against alleged discrimination and police brutality aimed at the Ethiopian community. Protesters blocked Menachem Begin Boulevard, a major thoroughfare of the city, as well as an adjacent junction that is a meeting point of two main arteries.
Pakada, a 21-year-old orphan who emigrated from Ethiopia with his four siblings seven years ago, told Channel 10 that he was riding his bicycle last Sunday when he noticed the two officers who were engaged in securing an area around a suspicious object. He said that he asked them what they were up to and one of them confronted him and pushed him off his bike and shoved him to the ground roughly, saying, “I can do whatever I want.”
He said that the officer threatened to shoot him in the head, and that they only let up after he backed away and lifted a rock. Several police officers then detained the soldier for alleged assault, although the footage showed that Pakada did not attack them with the rock in his hand.
After the footage was obtained by Pakada’s family, he was released from custody, with police promising to investigate the matter.
The Sunday demonstration followed violent clashes during a large demonstration in Jerusalem on Thursday that left over a dozen people injured after police deployed tear gas, stun grenades and water hoses against the protesters. Pockets of demonstrators threw stones and bottles at police and blocked streets as well as the city’s light rail tracks as they attempted to march on the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Three police officers were injured at the protest, along with as many as 13 demonstrators. Two were arrested. Shortly after 1 a.m. Friday, the last of the protesters went home.
Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin have both condemned the assault on the soldier, but Netanyahu also urged dialogue rather than violence in dealing with the issues raised by the protesters.
Danino said that the officer who was filmed beating the Pakada would be expelled from the police force, pending a hearing.
“There is no room for such officers in the Israel Police,” he said.
On Thursday, Danino met activists from the Ethiopian community, and said he would establish a special team to examine the community’s claims and formulate ways to deal with the problem.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.