Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv Wednesday to protest racism and police brutality days after a young community member was shot dead by an officer.
Carrying signs accusing the police of “murder”, the protestors blocked main intersections in the Israeli commercial capital ahead of a march to a central protest.
Yehuda Biadga, reportedly in his early 20s, was shot dead on January 18 in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, after rushing at a police officer holding a knife, according to eyewitnesses.
His mother, Mamia Biadga, had called the police to subdue her son who reportedly suffered from a mental condition, but says officers used excessive force.
“When a terrorist comes to murder, they don’t shoot him,” she said during the demonstration. “But Yehuda, who served in the army, had to be shot?”
The protestors, mainly young members of the community joined by supporters from other segments of Israeli society, marched to the nearby Ayalon highway chanting against the “police state” and calling for harsh measures to be taken against violent officers.
Community elders wearing traditional robes and holding colourful umbrellas herded the protestors with instructions in Amharic called through bullhorns.
Police looked on from a discreet distance and there were no immediate reports of clashes or arrests.
A police spokesman said the justice ministry’s internal affairs department was investigating Biadga’s death.
Shahar Mula, one of the demonstration’s organisers, said Biadga’s killing was “a trigger” for the rally, noting a series of incidents since 2015, when the community held protests over its problems.
“We came to protest… to convey a message that the police violence cannot continue,” he told AFP, demanding dialogue with the government over the community’s grievances.
For Shiran Tasama, the demonstration was connected to a broader cause.
“The racism (in Israel) is not directed only at the Ethiopian community, it’s against all the disempowered populations,” she said, calling on them to “unite”.
“We’re not just protesting against the police, we’re protesting against the education ministry and all the other institutions that have abandoned the weak populations,” the 26-year-old from Hod Hasharon told AFP.
Israel’s Ethiopian community now numbers around 140,000 people, including more than 50,000 born in the Jewish state.
Most of them are descendants of communities cut off from the Jewish world for centuries, and were belatedly recognised as Jews by Israeli religious authorities.
The community has consistently alleged institutionalised racism in recent years.