Imaye Taga, an Ethiopian-Israeli midfielder for the Maccabi Netanya soccer team, was fined NIS 750 ($198) by the Israel Soccer Association for “misconduct” after wearing a protest shirt during the playing of the national anthem before a match.
His shirt read: “How long, Avera Mengistu,” on one side and “We are all Yosef Salamsa” on the other, according to a report Thursday in the Hebrew-language news blog Hamakom.
Hamas has confirmed capturing Avraham “Avera” Mengistu after he sneaked over the border fence for unknown reasons in September 2014. Mengistu’s name was under a gag order until July 2015, when it was lifted following a petition from Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth.
The name of a second Israeli citizen being held by Hamas, a Bedouin man who also apparently also crossed the border of his own volition, has not been cleared for publication.
Salamsa, subject of the second caption on Taga’s shirt, was found dead in a quarry in the northern city of Binyamina in July 2014. Although his death was officially ruled to have been a suicide, Ethiopian-Israeli community activists said he was the victim of repeated abuse by police officers, a factor that may have contributed to his death.
“It’s not a political act, and is not intended to promote a political party,” Taga told Hamakom. “I did it because Avera Mengistu and Yosef Salamsa have no influence within the Israeli public.”
He went on to cite Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was held in Gaza for years before he was traded for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in 2011, saying Shalit’s family “has more money and influence, and better language” than the families of Ethiopian Israelis.
“Precisely for this reason… I thought that every Israeli, Jew — that the whole country — would demand the return of Avera Mengistu or insist upon reopening Yosef Salamsa’s case.”
Taga told HaMakom he was “not bothered” by the verdict, and vowed to continue speaking out for the Ethiopian community, while stressing that he is representing himself alone.
“I will keep acting in every legal way to bring awareness to the issue,” he said. “In any case, it is my own personal initiative, not the club’s, and I take full responsibility for it.”
The Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.