Takah Killing Stirs the Pot – Racism Floats to the Surface
I am forced to admit to a very unpleasant truth.
The exact circumstances of Solomon Takah’s killing matter only to the determination of justice and guilt in that particular instance. It does not matter, in the overall picture of things, that Takah was outside his house when he should have been home as he was under house arrest. It does not matter, in the overall picture of things, that the cop who killed him claims he intervened in order to save a young teenager from a bad situation (and it appears that security cameras support this). It does not matter, in the overall picture of things, that Takah apparently went after the cop and his kids throwing rocks. All these details matter to the specific case. But they do not matter for the general circumstances of the lives of our fellow Israeli citizens from Ethiopia, the cloud under which they live.
Takah was a trigger. Because what we see in the TV report below is what young Ethiopian Israelis face day in and day out. I did not want to believe this. Watch this to the end even if you do not understand the Hebrew. The actions speak for themselves. (And I describe the events below the video.)
At the beginning of the news piece above, a young Ethiopian man describes being regarded as a suspicious character if he is found anywhere but in an area populated by Ethiopians. The Reshet news team set up hidden cameras to see what would happen if two young Ethiopians sat on a bench late at night in a well-to-do residential area. Not more than 10 minutes after they sit down, a police car passes by and the saga begins. The police ask what they are doing there and request identification. Then the community security watch approach (with a dog). The police check if the men have a criminal record. Another police car appears. And not far from there, two young white men sit on a bench and nobody approaches them at all.
The Ethiopian men are asked to take everything out of their pockets and they are told that they are suspected of being robbers, that a report has been opened against them. More cops come. As they are being led separately to police cars, the TV journalist comes forward. The police tell her that they stopped a potential robbery. She tells the police that TV cameras have been following them from the moment they entered the neighbourhood and they did not go into any house. One of the cops tries to justify their actions by claiming that one of the men had what might be a weapon. The journalist tells us that it is a key, that to the cops a car remote with a receding key can be a weapon. The basic assumption is that they came to commit a crime and anything that they do or have is seen as supporting that assumption.
The men say: “Welcome to our world.”
And it is clear that, without having done anything but sit on a bench in an area the police deem out of bounds for black people, these two young men would have had a very hard time getting out of this situation without a trip to a holding cell. Outrageous. Of course Ethiopian Israelis are angry!
Violent Demonstrations and Racism
I was horrified by the scenes of violence and vandalism at the demonstrations. And I was equally horrified at demonstrations of racism that rose to the surface on Facebook, racism I never expected to find even though I should not be shocked at it. After all, I was aware that there were religious schools in some towns that refused to admit Ethiopian children. Did I think that only they were racist? (And I did nothing and said nothing.)
Here are just two comments that were repeated over and over by various individuals:
Barbarians like you, go back to Africa, you are ungrateful. Why did we even bring you to Israel. . .
Back to Africa where you belong not here
Others posted that they were sympathetic to the Ethiopians until this point: as long as the Ethiopians behaved in their reputed gentle and mild manner, they were acceptable, and that is as racist as anything else I saw and heard.
It was a mistake, either witting or unwitting, to let the demonstrations, triggered by the Takah killing, be handled by left wing organizations that manipulated the anger of the Ethiopians to chip away at our society and sow anarchy. But it did stir up the dregs at the muddy bottom of the lake that we (and I) preferred not to see.
From Whisking Jews Up In the Desert to Racism
I remember how proud we were when Israel rescued Ethiopian Jews from the desert as they fled across Sudan on the way to the Promised Land. We were excited to greet the new arrivals, an exotic branch of our tribe. But the cultural differences were too great for us to accommodate and we were not equipped to respond to their needs in accordance with their African culture. Other immigrants in the immigration centers complained about the smell of their food. Teachers complained about their poor habits and their difficulty adjusting to the classroom. The labelling began.
Many years ago, I was working with a family that had come to the attention of social services a short time after their arrival in Israel. Without warning, their young son of 7 was picked up by a child protection worker on his way home from school and sent to an emergency shelter, under suspicion that he had been sexually abused. There was nobody in the shelter who spoke Amharic and he did not yet speak Hebrew. He did what was natural in Africa – he climbed a tree (in this case a roof). The staff at the center interpreted that as a suicide threat. Along with other behaviours they did not understand within his cultural context, they were about to get him evaluated and treated by a psychiatrist (who also did not speak Amharic and knew nothing about their culture).
It took two weeks and the coordinated effort of my clinic and the immigration center staff to get him released back home to continue therapy with us. Therapy included parental guidance to help the parents understand the culture in which they were now raising their children.
Can anyone say what long-term effect the two-week separation from his family had on this 7-year-old boy? And without a doubt there are many like him around the country.
The statistical evidence shows that Ethiopian Israelis are integrating more and more into Israeli society. They are pursuing degrees in universities and serving in higher and higher positions in all branches of the public and private sectors. However, these achievements do not erase the very real discrimination many face when they apply for a job, seek to rent an apartment, and more. Hadas Malada-matsree describes the challenges that face her as a medical doctor here.
I sincerely hope the demonstration organizers distance themselves from the foreign money that last week led to violence and anarchy. It is perhaps a miracle that nobody was killed. Police officers were hurt, many civilians severely inconvenienced and worse, and demonstrators taken into custody. It did serve to sear into our minds and hearts the issues of concern — racism and discrimination, anger and unbearable frustration. These are still in the public discourse. We know the task ahead of us more clearly now. Let us hope we are up to the challenge.
It is not enough to prevent the next Takah killing — that is holding the bar very low indeed. We should be aiming for full integration, without discrimination. A black face should not trigger the police to go into overdrive, should not lead to a job rejection or a lame statement that the apartment was just rented.
We need an Ethiopian “Shtisel” to open up your world to us, your fellow Israelis.