Police Violence Bridges Generational Political Divide Among Ethiopian-Israelis
Older voters mull dropping support for right-wing parties in Tuesday’s election
Over the years, younger Ethiopian Israeli voters, who grew up in Israel, have tended to vote for the Left because of their direct and indirect experiences with police violence and racism, while older voters, who came from a conservative society, supported the Right.
The latter part of this equation may have now changed as a result of the perceived inaction by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on police violence and other issues important to the community. On June 30, Solomon Tekah, 18, became the 11th Ethiopian-Israeli to be killed by police in a little over two decades. Tekah’s death at the hands of an off-duty officer led to protests in cities throughout Israel in early July.
“The latest crisis has brought the younger and older generation together in their joint disappointment [regarding police violence],” Shlomit Bukaya, executive director of the Israel-based Association for Ethiopian Jews, told The Media Line. “The older generation will now definitely consider changing their right-of-center voting to be more centrist.
“It’s not an issue of Left and Right political views, it is more that the older generation is finally understanding the impact of their vote and the [resultant] policies that they didn’t quite connect in the past,” Bukaya said.
According to Bukaya, the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) list, the Likud’s largest challenger, is making a concerted effort to appeal to Israelis of Ethiopian origin. Party head Benny Gantz appeared on an Amharic (a language spoken by many in the community) radio station reaching out to voters. His party has two Ethiopian-Israeli parliamentarians, who are “not token Ethiopian [legislators] but are sensitive to their constituents,” she said.
Dr. Abraham Neguise, formerly a member of parliament for the Likud and past chairman of the legislature’s Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, acknowledged that it might be more difficult for Netanyahu’s party to garner support from the Ethiopian-Israeli community than in the past. However, he believes that the majority would still vote for the Likud.
“Ninety percent of the Ethiopian Jewish community voted for the right wing, the Likud especially, [but] this time we have a challenge [after] the police shot and killed Solomon Tekah, which the community is still angry about,” Neguise told The Media Line. “This tragedy is a tragedy for all of us, no matter the party…, [but] we should not relate this to [how we vote in] the election,” he said.
“I keep calling for Ethiopian-Israelis to come out and vote for the Likud party, because Prime Minister Netanyahu is the best prime minister ever and the first prime minister to establish a Ministerial Committee on the Integration of Israeli Citizens of Ethiopian Origin,” he continued.
Neguise explained that many Ethiopians vote Likud because of the actions Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister who initially recognized the community as Jews. This action would eventually lead to covert efforts such as Operation Moses (1984) and Operation Solomon (1991) which airlifted tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
Out of the approximately 145,000 -150,000 Ethiopian-Israelis today, 100,000 are of voting age. Dr. Neguise told The Media Line that approximately 88,000 members of the community had emigrated from Ethiopia to Israel and about 62,000 were born in the Jewish state. While Ethiopian-Israelis account for less than 2 percent of the Israeli population, Neguise said that their impact would still be felt in the election, bolstered by the their high rate of voter participation.
“Because of the voting system [in Israel], when you miss even one vote you can lose a seat [in parliament],” Neguise said. “I believe that the difference in this election will be the Ethiopian-Israeli vote.”
The Association of Ethiopian Jews’ Bukaya said that some of the most important issues for the community, such as police violence and socioeconomic concerns, like the gap between rich and poor, were shared by the general public.
“Their issues are not particular to the Ethiopian community, but they are more extreme in the way they impact it because of racism and the color of their skin,” Bukaya contended.
Israelis tend to vote based on the issue of security vis-à-vis the Palestinians and enemy states. Bukaya said also she wanted voters to take into consideration their own personal wellbeing.
“It’s not only about threats coming from outside Israel… it’s also about threats from within,” she said.
Former Likud parliamentarian Neguise said, however, that maintaining the status quo was in the best interest of Ethiopian-Israelis.
“We have many demands for the next government [such as bringing] the rest of the community from Ethiopia here and… for police brutality to be banished from Israeli society,” he said.
“The demands can be best met with the current prime minister staying in office so that the infrastructure supporting the community will be maintained and even expanded.”
(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies Program)