Last Sunday, June 30, news broke that an unarmed Ethiopian 19 year old, Solomon Teka, had been shot dead by an off-duty policeman in Kiryat Haim, a neighborhood of Haifa.
Although this was not the fact of the matter, as we shall see below, many jumped to the conclusion – fed by media reports – that this was a case of a trigger-happy racist cop who shot an innocent teenager because he was black. One major news outlet here in Israel, for example, alluded to Teka having been “gunned down” – not exactly an objective description of what had transpired, especially as there had been no conclusion yet from a police investigation. (Please! read through to learn about the conclusions of that investigation, which have now been released.)
On Tuesday, July 2, Teka’s funeral was held in Haifa.
After this, all hell broke loose: There were demonstrations all over the country, many violent.
According to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (LIkud), the scope of the demonstrations, in so many locales simultaneously, was unprecedented.
“They were throwing stun grenades and Molotov cocktails at police vehicles and on police stations in order to burn them down. At night, intelligence came in about intentions to fire live ammunition at police officers.”
Forty seven police officers were injured. Main roadways were blocked so that much of Israel came to a standstill: 50,000 commuters were caught for hours in traffic. Tires were burned. In Tel Aviv a civilian car was overturned and set afire.
Shockingly, four paramedics were also attacked; I read that this almost never happens even when demonstrators become violent, because they know the paramedics will assist them if they are injured. But on Tuesday, 6 MDA ambulances and Mobile ICUs, and 4 medical emergency vehicles were damaged as a result of stone throwing.
So what was going on??
What I – along with other journalists and activists I spoke with – intuitively understood as the news of the violence broke was that this was not a question of a spontaneous Ethiopian Jewish response. It was very clearly organized and choreographed. As information about the enormous scope of the demonstrations and the accompanying violence was made public, that original impression was reinforced and confirmed.
What it is important to share here is the evidence that the Ethiopian demonstrations were co-opted, by non-Ethiopian and in some cases non-Jewish (primarily Arab) left wing elements.
Ethiopians who went out to demonstrate – and who had legitimate grievances or perceived grievances – were manipulated by these elements for political purposes. Causing unrest – provoking anger, and creating a negative public image of Israel, were paramount, not the redress of those grievances.
Former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he had information that the New Israel Fund had supplied funding for the demonstrations: “…I heard that the NIF poured out its resources to fan the flames.”
NIF has a malign political agenda: It funds grantees involved in demonizing Israel and supporting BDS. See: https://www.ngo-monitor.org/funder/new_israel_fund/
NIF funding of the demonstrations/riots should ring bells for us. In this case the funding was done via the joint Arab-Jewish organization “Standing Together.”
Israeli journalist Shimon Riklin tweeted: “Yakov Betzalel, the social justice activist from the Ethiopian community admitted to us in our program: Activists with ties to the New Israel Fund encouraged our youth to act violently”. (Emphasis added)
The original was in Hebrew: see English here: https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/132717/watch-video-proof-outside-forces-behind-ethiopian-protests-backed-soros/)
And there is more:
David Rosenberg, writing for Israel National News, reported from the scene that, “In many instances, participants in the more violent demonstrations are clearly not members of the Ethiopian community, with a number of Arab and non-Ethiopian Jewish rioters spotted taking part in the riots.”
Rosenberg cited Yosef Tavin, who filmed a demonstration in central Israel (emphasis added):
“About half of the demonstrators I saw were Arabs or non-Ethiopian [Jews].
“There is, of course, a large group of Ethiopians holding signs and flags, but there is a group that’s just as large of Arabs, and you can basically see that the Arabs are the ones running the demonstration and deciding where, who, when to attack, who will get stones and who won’t.
“During the demonstration, I filmed a lot of rioting and violence. But then all of a sudden I noticed that there is someone, an Ashkenazi woman, who is bossing around the demonstrators, and they’re all listening to her.”
Josh Breiner, who was present at a riot in Tel Aviv, tweeted (emphasis added): “The protest is intensifying. Left-wing activists joined in and blocked the Menachem Begin Road…There are very few actual Ethiopians here, but rather left-wing activists [almost] exclusively”. (See BreakingIsraelNews link above.)
Then we have a short video with comments posted by Josh Wander on Facebook (emphasis added):
This is the most damning video I’ve seen so far, proving a direct connection between the ‘Ethiopian riots’ and anti-Semitic elements interested in destroying Israel. You can clearly hear in Arabic rioters saying, ‘Allah hu Akbar’, ‘Itbach el Yahud’ (slaughter the Jews) and ‘Free Palestine’. There’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye!
David Israel, in the Jewish Press item I cited above, wrote:
“A friend who lives in Judea and Samaria and is no stranger to confrontations with the police told me this morning: ‘This is not Jewish.’”
“This is not Jewish.” But the net result was that Ethiopian Jewish involvement in these riots did great damage. Information about the apparent situation here filtered to the US, as well as elsewhere, and from the US reports came to me about left wing anti-Israel elements that promoted this as proof that Israel was “racist” and “apartheid.” It will be used to fuel BDS campaigns and will reinforce anti-Israel radical groups such as “IfNotNow.” “Black Lives Matter” hooked on to this, as well. There are even calls to prevent US police from receiving training from Israeli police (who have much to impart with regard to issues of terrorism and more), because this would teach the American police to be more violent towards people of color.
My friends, my response has been one of sadness and anger. “How dare you?!” I wanted to say to the Ethiopian Jewish protestors who were violent, and those who stood with Arabs who were violent.
For years I worked with Ethiopian Jews, and my response has been fueled in part by this fact. I elaborate below, but first a report on the police investigation of Solomon Teka’s death. This is the critical heart of the matter:
The story told by the off-duty policeman from the beginning was this:
He had gone out to the park in the evening with his wife and his children, and saw three young Ethiopian men beating up a 13-year old boy and trying to steal his money and phone.
He approached them and ordered them to leave the boy alone but they ignored him. He then identified himself as a policeman, but the men began cursing at him and threatening him. At this point the boy had run away, and the policeman, noticing that the men seemed to be drunk, decided to leave the scene.
However, in short order the three men came back towards him and began throwing rocks, hitting him in the head, chest and shoulders. He called for back-up (which fact has been corroborated), but, feeling that his life was in real danger, and deeply concerned for his family, he pulled out his gun to deter the men and then shot towards the ground. “I didn’t shoot in the air out of fear of harming passersby since it’s a populated area,” he said at the investigation.
The investigation was conducted by the Police Internal Affairs Department, with an IAD attorney participating. A statement made early indicated that “The circumstances are very different from what they are trying to project. This is not a case in which a policeman shoots indiscriminately.”
Now the story of the off-duty policeman has been corroborated: The police officer indeed shot at the ground, as he had insisted from the beginning. An autopsy of Teka revealed that only a bent sliver of the bullet was lodged in his body…the remaining part of the bullet was found lodged in the ground at the scene of the shooting. The officer will not be charged with manslaughter.
And here is the most vile aspect of this whole situation, which is rife with ugliness:
Pictures of this officer and his family, which includes children aged 7 months, 5 and 7, were taken during the altercation and have been posted on social media with calls to kill them!!!
The family is in hiding and under police protection, and cannot return home.
Right now the situation is quiet, in accordance with the request of the Teka family during their shiva (week of mourning). It is being said that demonstrations will resume again at the end of shiva (today, Monday), but I don’t know if we will see more violence.
Throughout, Israeli officials starting with the prime minister and down have attempted to communicate sensitivity to Ethiopian Jewish concerns, while making it clear that violence would not be tolerated. It is disturbing that the Teka family is still referring to Solomon’s “murder” – said a cousin, “There was murder here, not killing.”
This cousin is reflecting the politically correct attitude embraced by the American left that posits that a white policeman doing his job, if it involves action against a person of color, is likely to be a racist who will over-react, and that the person of color is likely be an innocent victim.
The investigation indicates that the police officer behaved properly. It is, I would suggest, important to acknowledge that Solomon Teka – while he most certainly did not deserve to die – behaved reprehensibly, thereby promoting the situation that led to his tragic (and unintended) death.
None of this diminishes by an iota the pain his parents are undoubtedly feeling. And yet, we must deal with the facts.
What is urgent here, my friends, is that you share this information as broadly as possible. Share it with your lists, post on your FB pages and your websites, write letters to the editor. It is important for Israel that the truth be told.
I would be disingenuous if I said that there was no racism in Israel. Of course there is: we find racist individuals everywhere. Racism must be identified, and combated.
But telling the truth also means clarifying the fact that Israel is NOT racist in its policies. Ethiopian Jews have equal protection under the law.
A friend of mine told me on Shabbat that these riots called to her mind the situation with Martin Luther King Jr. I responded with a vehemence that likely shocked her that this was not so. This is precisely what we should not think.
Martin Luther King advocated non-violence in all circumstances. He would have been horrified at the violence that ensued during the demonstrations last week.
And then, King was demonstrating against a racism that was encoded in law. Israel is not by any remote stretch of the imagination the American south of the 1950s. And we should not ever allow anyone to imagine or presume that it is.
And I will carry this thought one step further: It is not “simply” that Israel has no racist laws or policies – Israel is unique in all of history in having gone into Africa to bring out a black population, not in chains, but in freedom.
There were three different operations for bringing in the Jews of Ethiopia, but I want to mention here Operation Solomon of May 1991, the largest. This was an incredible covert operation that saw over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews airlifted from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, where they had been gathered from their villages, to Israel in the course less than 48 hours.
Ethiopia was on the edge of revolution – the rebels were on the outskirts of the city and were held at bay via means too complicated to describe here. Armed IDF soldiers came with the 35 planes that landed, one after the other, to take the people. The soldiers were there to protect them if things got difficult. Thankfully they did not. There were also doctors on board the planes, and five babies were delivered during the flights. See a short video here regarding this airlift:
All of this required risk, and concentrated effort and considerable expense. But it was done, by white Israeli Jews for black African Jews.
Because it was 28 years ago, does this mean it no longer matters?
And this was only the beginning. When the Ethiopian Jews arrived in Israel, they had only the clothes on their backs.
White Israelis, excited by this operation and proud of what had been done, flocked to bring the new- comers what they needed as they settled into hotels and absorption centers: diapers, clothes, whatever, whatever. So much was brought that the government put out the word that it was enough.
And then began the task of helping these new Israelis absorb. A daunting task. It is not racism to face this, but merely recognition of the realities: their culture was very different from Israeli culture, the people from the villages were often illiterate, and they practiced a Toraitic Judaism without knowledge of Talmud. (With later groups brought in, there were other problems.)
Many programs were set in place, then and during the ensuing years. Did the social workers always understand the people they were supposed to be helping? No. I saw that myself. But they tried. And there were many successes.
Were there enough programs set in place? Perhaps not. But today there are Ethiopian Jewish doctors, nurses, social workers, lawyers, rabbis, teachers, and army officers.
In these past days, none of this has been mentioned: only the negative, only the experiences with racism and the frustrations. As if Israel has done no good. This does a disservice to Israel, but also to the young people.
There is a great deal more I might say about the frustrations and the difficulties of the young people, and I would love to come back to this. On the one hand, there must be sensitivity to their struggles and on-going efforts to fight racism. But on the other, I believe with all of my heart that it is important that they not adopt a victim mentality, but understand that they can succeed. And that they learn to feel gratitude for what has been and for what can yet be.
When Dr. Avi Yitzhak, who was the first Ethiopian Jew to attend medical school in Israel, became the first IDF colonel of Ethiopian descent in 2017, he said:
“I have no doubt my children, teenagers in general, and teenagers from the Ethiopian community in particular, will see this as a realization of the phrase ‘If you will it, it is no dream.'”
This too is part of the story that must be told.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.