Tel Aviv – Several thousand people from Israel’s Jewish Ethiopian minority protested in Tel Aviv against racism and police brutality on Sunday, shutting down a major highway and clashing with police on horseback long into the night.
The protest was mostly peaceful during the day, but by nightfall became violent with at least 20 officers hurt and “multiple protesters” arrested, Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Protesters threw rocks and bottles at officers in riot gear. Police deployed officers on horseback and used stun grenades to try and control the crowds in central Tel Aviv. Local media reported protesters tipped over a police vehicle and set fires near city hall.
Channel 2 TV said the protesters came from all over the country.
“I am here to fight for our rights,” a woman named Batel from the northern city of Nazareth Illit told the station.
“I don’t want to be beaten by police,” said the 21-year- old, who didn’t give her last name. “My parents didn’t immigrate here for nothing. I want equality.”
Simmering frustrations among Israel’s Ethiopian community boiled over when footage emerged of an Ethiopian Israeli in an army uniform being beaten by police last week.
Thousands of Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, many of them secretly airlifted into the country in 1984 and 1990, but their absorption into Israeli society has been difficult.
Although they are Jewish, Ethiopian community members complain of racism, lack of opportunity in Israeli society, endemic poverty and routine police harassment.
Police chief Yohanan Danino told Channel 10 TV that “the use of violence by a small minority of the many protesters does not serve their struggle.” He added, “Whoever harms police or civilians will be brought to justice.”
Activists told the station they don’t want violence to escalate to the level seen in Baltimore where the death of a man in police custody sparked riots. One man held a sign reading: “Bibi, you had better not let Baltimore reach Israel,” referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname.
Police said thousands of people took part in Sunday’s protest. Protesters blocked roads in central Tel Aviv as well as a main highway leading to the city during the day.
It was the second such protest in several days and supporters say the demonstrations will continue. The first rally last week in Jerusalem turned violent as well, but on a smaller scale.
Protestor’s marched in Tel Aviv, with some blowing whistles or chanting “violent police officers belong in jail.”
Netanyahu said he will meet Monday with representatives of the community as well as the beaten solider.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich told Channel 2 the officers caught in the footage are “a disgrace” and are being investigated. He said Israel’s police force “needs to examine itself” and that more needs to be done to help the Ethiopian community.