Cars burning, thousands protesting, motorways blocked, tearful families at tragic funerals– these sights are ones that are sadly familiar to Americans after the last few years. Nearly five years ago, in Ferguson, Missouri, 18 year old Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer after an altercation (the details of which are unclear). Then there was 12 year old Tamir Rice (shot while holding a toy guy), Walter Scott (shot from behind while fleeing), Alton Sterling (shot while already subdued by officers), and Philando Castile– who was shot seven times while sitting in his car and reaching for his license during a traffic stop. Unfortunately there’s more young black men who make this list– more than I can name here, and there are still more being added today- in an ongoing epidemic of police brutality which undermines the American narrative that civil rights is an historical event and not an ongoing crisis.
The eerie coincidence with the case of Solomon Teka and Michael Brown is thus especially disturbing. An Ethiopian-Israeli, Solomon was involved in an altercation in a playground in Haifa when an off-duty police officer attempted to intervene. He shot at Solomon and killed him, four days ago. In the days since, Israel has been embroiled in massive protests led by the Ethiopian community against such police brutality and systemic racism– especially against, once again, young black men.
Although all of these cases are complicated, it is impossible to ignore the role that race plays in their tragic endings. Perhaps Michael Brown had just shoplifted, perhaps Alton Sterling did have a criminal record, perhaps Solomon Teka was involved in a fight on the playground– but if each of these young men were white, would have the situation still ended with their deaths?
In some ways, Israel has already done better than America. Political leaders have supported the protestors and politicians around the spectrum have called for a review of institutional racism in policing. Indeed, in a stark contrast to many American cases, the officer who killed Teka was immediately arrested and is being held on house arrest while the case is reviewed. Perhaps a slightly better reaction to a horrible situation– but the question remains, why is this situation even occurring in the first place?
America has a long history of racial tension and extreme violence. It was less than a hundred years ago that Black Americans were considered unequal in the eyes of the law, and less than a hundred years before that they were not even considered people. But why is Israel experiencing the same issues, exemplifying the same racism? Shouldn’t a people who themselves have been targeted for centuries by racism do better to eliminate such a plague from their own society?
Sadly, such is not the case. Experiencing racism is no immunisation against exhibiting it– and Israel needs to be especially vigilant to not fall into such terrible patterns. Jews of colour around the world find that their experience, their stories, and their Judaism– are consistently undermined and subverted. Israel is an incredibly diverse place– representing cultures and ethnicities from literally around the globe; but touting diversity can’t be the last step. As evidenced by the case of Solomon Teka (may his memory be a blessing), Israel has a lot further to go to ensure that the diverse society which makes it up is protected and preserved through good policy and administration.