The racism that Ethiopian-Israelis face is part of a bigger picture

In recent days the issues of racism, discrimination, and police brutality that too often afflict Ethiopian-Israelis have catapulted into the headlines.

The spark was the videotaped beating of a uniformed Ethiopian-Israeli soldier by two police officers, which brought Israelis of many colors and backgrounds into the streets to call for an end to racism and an end to violence.

Unfortunately, a few demonstrators in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv resorted to violence. The police reacted with brutal measures, leaving dozens injured and nearly 50 activists arrested to date.

What is happening in Israel right now is about race, about discrimination, and about poverty. It is also tied in to the larger questions that Israel is facing, questions about how the country absorbs new immigrants, questions about what it means to be a Jewish state, and questions about whether Israelis can uphold the values of democracy and equality at home even while the occupation of so many Palestinians continues.

You and I have a role in all of this. For years NIF has funded civil society groups within the Ethiopian-Israeli community. We knew that the gaps between various sectors of Israeli society could never be bridged if marginalized communities did not develop independent leadership to advocate on behalf of their needs:

–> We helped the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews to develop networks of leaders within the community.

–> We helped get Tebeka — the first legal aid society for Ethiopian Jews in Israel — off the ground. (Tebeka, by the way, means “Advocate of Justice” in Amharic).

–> We funded programs to address the problems the community was facing, including unique challenges related to healthcare, domestic violence, and housing.

As recent events demonstrate, these efforts on their own could not turn the tide. And NIF made the decision a year ago to think big and to figure out how to focus our investments into initiatives that would impact all Israelis.

Because, as you and I know, the racism, the discrimination, and the police brutality that Ethiopian-Israelis confront is intimately related to the challenges faced by so many other Israelis as well.

Right now — to face the challenges evident in the streets of Tel Aviv — NIF is working to change the discourse in Israel, making sure that no community has to face such sustained discrimination. We are finding ways to mobilize more and more Israelis who believe in equality to join together and to speak out.

And we are looking for ways to leverage our resources for the greatest impact: It is no coincidence that we’ve already started to concentrate our investments into programs that protect freedom of speech, confront police brutality, and combat racism.

Social change is never easy. It is, at times, painstakingly slow. And on too many days — including today — we see an Israel marked by division, by racism, and by strife.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

NIF is a community of individuals who dream of a better Israel. We are strategic in our investments to realize that vision. We have a lot of work to do. And thanks to your support we can empower Israelis who share our progressive values to get Israel back on the right track.

Thank you for your partnership.

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May 2015