Ethiopian Protest Tent Fights Racism in Israel
Tuesday, April 24, marked day 73 of the Ethiopian protest tent against racism, located directly outside of the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem. SHATIL, in partnership with the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, is providing ongoing guidance to the effort. Gidon Ambaya, the SHATIL Community Organizer for the Ethiopian Community, has visited the protest tent almost every day, lending a sense of moral support in addition to his professional expertise.
With undeniable intensity and passion, Yamluck W. Ichasheman, a full time activist at the tent, illustrates the importance of the Ethiopian Israeli struggle for acceptance by telling a story.
“One day, a young Ethiopian Israeli child went to school. Like all other children, she hoped to learn and make friends. As the day went by, she became more and more discouraged as teachers and pupils taunted her because of the color of her skin. She arrived home that day and tried to wash the color off, desperate to fit in.”
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident.
The struggle against racism began 30 years ago, when the majority of Ethiopian Jews immigrated to Israel in search for freedom and tolerance, said Alimato Farda, an Ethiopian Israeli lawyer and one of the tent organizers. This protest tent, however, was born in a wave of activism earlier this year, when thousands of shocked Israelis, both Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians, took to the streets to protest an organized effort to ban apartment sales to Ethiopian Israelis in Kiryat Malakhi, home to a large Ethiopian Israeli community.
In the months following the protest, young Ethiopian Israelis are continuing to spread awareness about racism and discrimination against the Ethiopian Israeli community. The protest tent has become the center of this campaign, drawing hundreds of passersby to join the struggle in solidarity.
Seven full time activists run the tent, greeting visitors with smiles and information. The tent is comfortable and welcoming, stocked with coffee and desserts to encourage conversation. Bold posters demanding an end to racism surround the area, and a guestbook with notes of encouragement lies open on the table.
The tent has provided a dynamic space for workshops, youth trainings, and community meetings to combat all forms of discrimination against Ethiopian Israelis, including in matters of education, employment, housing, and religion.
SHATIL’s Gidon Ambaya worked with activists to organize a successful Passover Seder at the protest tent, drawing participants of both Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian descent. He also helped coordinate a Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at the tent, emphasizing the importance of tolerance and acceptance. The tent itself is located on the same site as the previous Gilad Shalit protest tent, a site that has become a symbolic protest venue in Israel.
“I experienced anti-Semitism in Ethiopia…but it is hurts more to experience racism in Israel, in a community I consider my own,” says Ichasheman.
Recalling the story of the young school child, Ichasheman motions to his arm, as if to demonstrate that one cannot simply wash off color. He hopes to prevent the new generation of Ethiopian Israeli children, born in Israel, from having to face such discrimination.
“It doesn’t matter if you are purple, red, orange, or black,” he declared. “We all deserve respect.”