“Ethiopian Israelis are demanding that Israeli society recognize that their “lives matter.”
Just as the announcement was being made that military forces were being withdrawn and the curfew on the black community lifted in Baltimore, images of another black rebellion exploded in social media and the airwaves of the world, this time from “democratic” Israel.
Last Thursday in Jerusalem Ethiopian Israelis gathered in peaceful protest in reaction to the release of a video that showed Israeli police violently attacking an Ethiopian member of the Israeli army who was in full uniform. Ethiopian Israelis, long the victims of systematic racial discrimination in Israel, evoked the spirit of Baltimore and demanded an end to discrimination and police brutality.
However, it was in the liberal bastion of Tel Aviv that the protests turned into a battle zone between the police and Ethiopian Israelis. Like the black middle-class liberals of Baltimore who were incensed that the black rabble would rise up to question their authority, liberal authorities in Tel Aviv decided to violently disperse the largely peaceful demonstrators in Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv. And similar to the black liberals charged with upholding elite white power in the Baltimore, liberals charged with upholding Ashkenazi elite power in Tel Aviv did not understand that the people had reached a point in which the awesome power of the state no longer generated fear.
Along with the ongoing issue of police brutality, Ethiopians suffer housing and employment discrimination and find themselves at the bottom of Israeli society suffering both race and class discrimination. They are also constantly reminded that despite their Jewishness they are still the “other” and not as valued as other Jewish populations. They saw quite clearly the obvious contradiction in the efforts of the Israeli Prime Minister to persuade the good white French Jews to immigrant to Israel while the “Jewish State” cut immigration of Ethiopia Jews from Africa.
They also saw that their Jewishness did not protect them when reacting to the issue of African migrants to Israel, Israeli right-wing organizations staged a series of demonstrations calling for the expulsion of all non-Jewish African migrants with vigilante groups also carrying out violent assaults against African migrants that did not differentiate between non-Jewish Africans and them.
“Along with the ongoing issue of police brutality, Ethiopians suffer housing and employment discrimination and find themselves at the bottom of Israeli society suffering both race and class discrimination.”
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With the open expressions of anti-black racism and systematic economic and social discrimination, it was only a matter of time before there was an eruption from that community.
As I have written on a number of occasions, it should not be a surprise that anti-black racism has been revealed as permanent feature of the collective consciousness of the populations of both Israel and the United States. As settler-colonial states that imposed themselves on indigenous populations, both projects required the development of a hierarchy of humanity in which the conquerors could justify land expropriation, displacement and dispersal, in the case of Israel, and genocide in the case of the U.S. In both experiences, as in all of the settler-colonial experiences during the era of European/Western colonization, the creation of race served as the basis for that stratification of humanity.
Ethiopians Israeli face a conundrum similar to what African-Americans face. They are demanding that Israeli society recognize that their “lives matter.” However, for a colonial project that has normalized racialism and exclusion as operative values, it is illogical to expect that Israeli society could be morally capable of recognizing and substantially correcting the cultural ideas and discriminatory social policies that black Israelis face in modern Israel.
Black lives don’t matter in Israel or in the U.S. because Palestinian lives don’t matter, Yemeni lives don’t matter, Iraqi lives don’t matter, Syrian lives don’t matter, and even white working class lives don’t really matter, because all of these lives – this humanity – will be and is being sacrificed to maintain the dominance of an avaricious, criminal corporate/ financial elite still centered in the capitals of the West. Israeli is just a colonial outpost in that continuum of global power.
What Ethiopians must come to terms with, like African Americans and all racially and nationally oppressed groups in the “still existing” colonial societies, is that a choice has to be made between continued collaboration with the Western colonial/capitalist projects, or with authentic decolonization.
It is a choice as obvious as between life and death.