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Opinion: Racism taints us all

Racism and prejudice are not just the lot of Ethiopians living in poor neighborhoods or other marginal groups. Racism crosses all layers of the population; it is part of Israeli society and is embedded in the structure of its government.

Those words were written by a dark-skinned Jewish women, Hadas Melada-Matzri, who is a doctor and a wife and mother. Her post was widely shared and quoted in the media. She was one of many people of Ethiopian descent trying to explain to “whites” the sudden outpouring of rage over the killing of a young Ethiopian man, Solomon Teka, by an off-duty policeman.

Melada-Matzri has played the game by the rules: She speaks accent-less Hebrew, straightens her hair, made her way through medical school and lives on a kibbutz. And she has still been mistaken for the cleaning lady, had patients refuse to be treated by her because of the color of her skin.

And now she is daring to point a finger and publicly use the “R” word.

The news media used a different word: anarchy. Even, if we are to believe the ill-conceived tweets of Yair Netanyahu, anarchy funded by German leftists. The real truth is that the temporary anarchy was the product of a barely functioning government in the midst of yet more elections and the lack of a chief of police.

But the word – anarchy – is one that has been suggested before, in the context of Arab neighborhoods. Killings in front of the police car, women shot to death in broad daylight: These are painted as sad-but-unavoidable happenings in the “lawless” towns and neighborhoods where the Arab population lives.

Ethiopian Jews are finding themselves in the same ugly basket as Arabs – a danger to be contained, a threat to society. If you talk to the young people standing in the street, however, you will find not bomb-throwing anarchists or German-trained agent-provocateurs, but simply people who have had enough, and whose other option is to live in fear of finding themselves on the wrong end of a gun. They are brave young women in long braided hair, standing next to young men in afros and reflective sunglasses saying to all of Israeli society – I demand you see me as a person! I demand to be treated the same as everyone else, not just under the law, but at all levels of society!

It is as true of skin color as it is of dress, native language or accent, which bus a woman takes in the morning or how she is listed on her identity card. We all need to be seen first as people.

In order to correct itself, the Israeli police establishment must move away from the specter of anarchy in these populations, and take a good look at its own racism – the racism that reduces the charges when the person who was shot had black skin. The racism that ignores the complaints of abused women and deems the effort of tracking down the murderers of Arab women not worth the effort. When these are corrected, the “anarchy” will take care of itself.

Melada-Matzri is right – racism is embedded in the fabric of our country, from top to bottom. It is going to take all of us -- Arabs and Jews, women and men -- working together, to make a change.

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