Hadash-Joint Arab List MK Dov Hanin, who hosted the meeting along with former MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, said that after hearing serious claims about police discrimination, a dangerous track towards segregated schooling, disproportionate jailing rates and more, what stands behind it all is “one harsh word: racism.” He claimed that “racism is a disease that harms many sectors in Israeli society and threatens all of us.”
Tamano-Shata stated that the Knesset is not yet doing enough for the Ethiopian-Israeli community. “We must not settle for the fact that there is an Ethiopian MK,” she said.
It is the last 30 years of discrimination, according to Tamano-Shata, that led to the protests around the country this past week. She said that the young generation of Ethiopian-Israelis are tired of “adhering to the polite ways of the Ethiopian community” in light of the racism in Israel.
Tamano-Shata went on to accuse the Knesset of thwarting efforts to promote laws that would assist in the eradication of racism and discrimination. “Indeed the power of the law is limited,” she explained, “however judicial authority sends an important message and level of protection.”
Ziva Mekonen-Degu, Executive Director of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, spoke at the meeting and said that despite many discussions in recent years, there has been no real change. She claimed that the reason the video of Damas Pakada has garnered so much attention is because he was wearing the IDF uniform, but the problem is wider and deeper than that one story.
Text books don’t tell the story of the Ethiopian Jews, Mekonen-Degu says, the absorption ministry keeps Ethiopian-Israelis in the same neighborhoods, and police brutality is a daily event.
“The President was astounded by the facts we put before him,” she said, “the question now is whether we will turn a new page. The solutions aren’t easy. We are talking about equal rights and providing targeted solutions.”
Koby Getahune, one of the organizers of the protests, asked the Knesset members at the meeting “aren’t you tired of setting up committees of inquiry all the time? Knesset members aren’t interested in the community.”
Other activists who were present at the meeting also asked harsh questions, and said it was time for the Knesset to start working with the community to ensure the problems are dealt with.
The meeting was attended by representatives of the protest organizers, representatives of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, representatives from the justice ministry and police, and MKs from Hadash-The Joint Arab List, Likud, Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, and Kulanu.