Netanyahu: Israel will not tolerate racism

Israeli PM meets soldier Damas Fekade after Jews of Ethiopian origin clash with police in protest against his beating.

    The Israeli prime minister has assured an Ethiopian Jewish soldier whose beating at the hands of police prompted a violent protest that racism "won't be tolerated" in Israel.

    Monday's meeting, which was called by Benjamin Netanyahu, came a day after thousands of Ethiopian protesters clashed with police in Tel Aviv in one of the most violent protests in the city in recent memory.

    Netanyahu assured Ethiopian-born Damas Fekade that he would not tolerate racism.

    "One thing that we can't accept is tongue-lashing, racism or the belittling of other people," Netanyahu said.

    Fekade, whose beating was caught on camera, said that he condemned any type of violence, whether it be at the hands of the police or of demonstrators.

    "It's encouraging that it's the prime minister's personal initiative to talk to me and meet with me," he said.

    The protesters, Israeli Jews of Ethiopian origin, were demonstrating on Sunday against what they said was police racism and brutality after a video clip emerged last week showing policemen shoving and punching the black soldier.

    Two policemen have since been suspended on suspicion of using excessive force.

    Racism claims

    While Ethiopian Israelis have held demonstrations in the past, the protests have rarely turned violent, and never on the scale of Sunday's unrest in which 60 people were wounded and 40 were arrested.

    The protesters shut down a major highway in Tel Aviv, hurled stones and bottles at police officers and overturned a squad car.

    They were dispersed with tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades.

    The clashes reflect widespread frustration within the Ethiopian community over poverty, unemployment and discrimination.

    INSIDE STORY: Are black Israelis facing discrimination?

    Israeli politicians, stung by community leaders' comparison of the incident to police violence against blacks in the US, scrambled to defuse tensions.

    Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna, reporting from Tel Aviv, said the meeting signalled the sensitivity of the Israeli government to claims of racism within Israeli society.

    "These claims are made often and they have reached a peak in recent days," he said.

    "The Ethiopians have long argued that they have been marginalised and discriminated against because of the colour of their skin."

    Tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews affected by famine were airlifted to Israel in the 1980s and 1990s after a rabbinical ruling that they were direct descendants of the biblical Jewish Dan tribe.

    The community, which now numbers around 135,500 of Israel's population of more than eight million and includes many born in Israel, has long complained of discrimination, racism and poverty.

    More than half of the Ethiopians in Israel live in poverty and only half graduate from high school.

    The Israeli government is also frequently accused of racism for deporting African migrants.

    In 2013, Israel also admitted to forcibly administering birth-control injections to Ethiopian Jewish women without their consent or knowledge.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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