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Protests Highlight Troubles of Ethiopian Jews in Israel

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An Israeli protester holds a sign in Hebrew reading "violent policeman should be sentenced"  during clashes between Israel's, mainly Jewish Ethiopians and Israeli riot police during a protest against racism and police brutality in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, May 3, 2015, as several thousand people from Israel's Jewish Ethiopian minority protest, shutting down a major highway and clashing with police on horseback long into the night. The protest was mostly peaceful during the day, but by nightfall became violent with at least 20 officers were hurt and "multiple protesters" arrested, Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

An Israeli protester holds a sign in Hebrew reading “violent policeman should be sentenced” during clashes between Israel’s, mainly Jewish Ethiopians and Israeli riot police during a protest against racism and police brutality in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, May 3, 2015, as several thousand people from Israel’s Jewish Ethiopian minority protest, shutting down a major highway and clashing with police on horseback long into the night. The protest was mostly peaceful during the day, but by nightfall became violent with at least 20 officers were hurt and “multiple protesters” arrested, Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

ARON HELLER, Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) — When Israel secretly airlifted waves of Ethiopian Jews in the 1980s and 1990s, saving them from war and famine in the Horn of Africa, it was celebrated as a triumphant show of unity for the Jewish people.

Thirty years after the first large groups of Ethiopians arrived, few in the community are celebrating. Israel’s black Jewish minority is plagued by poverty, crime and unemployment, and their brewing frustrations over racism and lack of opportunity have boiled over into an unprecedented outburst of violent anti-police protests.

The unrest has laid bare the struggles of absorption and the rocky attempts of the state to integrate them into a society for which they were ill-prepared. Caught off-guard, Israel’s leaders are vowing to respond to the community’s grievances.

President Reuven Rivlin said Monday the outcry “exposed an open, bleeding wound in the heart of Israeli society.”

“We must look directly at this open wound. We have erred. We did not look, and we did not listen enough,” said Rivlin, whose largely ceremonial office is meant to serve as a moral compass.

On Sunday, protesters shut down a major highway in Tel Aviv, hurled stones and bottles at police and overturned a squad car. They were dispersed with tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades. More than 60 people were injured and 40 arrested in the second such protest in recent days, and demonstrations are expected to continue.

The unrest followed video that emerged last week of an Ethiopian Israeli soldier being beaten by police in what appeared to be an unprovoked attack.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Monday with community leaders and with the soldier who was attacked, telling him “we’ll have a change a few things.” Closing the gaps in Israeli society, however, will be a difficult task.

Ethiopian Jews trace their ancestors to the ancient Israelite tribe of Dan. The community was cut off from the rest of the Jewish world for more than 1,000 years.

Under its “Law of Return,” Israel grants automatic citizenship to any Jews. In the early 1980s, after a period of debate about recognizing the community as Jews, Israel covertly began to bring in thousands of Ethiopian immigrants. In 1991, thousands more came in a secret airlift carried out over two days.

The new arrivals struggled greatly as they made the transition from a rural, developing African country into an increasingly high-tech Israel. Over time, many have integrated more into Israeli society, serving in the military and police and making inroads in politics, sports and entertainment. Some prominent community figures speak Hebrew without a trace of an accent and are indistinguishable from other Israelis in everything but skin color.

Overall, however, the Ethiopians are an underclass. Many complain of racism, lack of opportunity and routine police harassment.

About 120,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today, a small minority in a country of 8 million. Many older Ethiopians work menial jobs — men as security guards and women as cleaners and cashiers. They live with their families in rundown city neighborhoods and impoverished towns with high rates of crime and domestic violence.

Their children have made gains, but overall, the younger generation is still struggling.

A 2012 study by the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute said that 41 percent of Ethiopian Israelis lived below the poverty line, compared with 15 percent for the overall Jewish population. The average income of Ethiopian Israelis was about two-thirds of their Jewish counterparts. Just 5 percent had college degrees, compared with 28 percent for the broader Jewish population. According to Israel’s Prison Service, one-fifth of the inmates in juvenile facilities are Ethiopian Israelis.

Ethiopian Israelis also allege repeated discriminatory slights and, at times, outright racism. In the late 1990s, it was discovered that Israel’s health services were throwing out Ethiopian Israeli blood donations over fears of diseases contracted in Africa. Some landlords have also refused them as tenants, and accusations have been raised that Israel has deliberately tried to curb their birth rates.

“Anyone who attended the protest yesterday experienced at one point in their life humiliation based on nothing but skin color,” said Mehereta Baruch-Ron, a Tel Aviv deputy mayor of Ethiopian descent, who added that police did not believe she was a city official and blocked her from joining the protest. “We have had enough. It is time to do something.”

Job Goshen, an Ethiopian Israeli social worker who works as a job counselor, said the problems stem from decades of well-intentioned but flawed policies.

He said that while the government encourages Ethiopians to enter the labor force, it also imposes unnecessary job requirements that make it difficult for them to get hired. He said a truck driver’s license, for instance, requires a computerized “theory” test that poorly educated Ethiopians struggle to pass.

“Most of the older Ethiopians don’t have the education. But they have other abilities that are not taken into account,” he said. “As a result, they are stuck in the same jobs — services, security, cleaning — and they don’t get ahead.”

Younger Ethiopians are better equipped for the work world, he said, but also face their own unique challenges, especially after completing compulsory military service.

Unlike their other Jewish counterparts, Ethiopians do not have parents and siblings who can steer them toward university studies or good jobs after leaving the army. Many come from large or broken homes and must support their parents or younger siblings. Goshen said that while he has not experienced overt racism, his friends, relatives and clients all have.

Fixing these problems will be a long process that will require the government and the community to work together.

“It has to come from both sides,” he said. “The government can’t impose a solution. It has to consult with us.”

Shlomo Molla, a former lawmaker of Ethiopian origin, said hope for change lies with the generation born in Israel and less intimidated by the establishment.

“I call upon these young people to continue resolutely, so that perhaps they might succeed where my generation failed,” he wrote in the Maariv daily. “The next stage of this battle should be civil disobedience. We should stop enlisting in the army, not join the police, and stop paying taxes, because if the state doesn’t take its citizens into account, the citizens are also permitted not to take the state into account.”

Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, told reporters Monday that “the fight versus racism and discrimination is a universal one. Obviously, people have a right to demonstrate peacefully, and we encourage the Israeli authorities to deal with the issues.”

The images of black Israelis clashing with police have drawn comparisons to the unrest in the U.S. following deadly altercations between police and black men or boys.

But Fentahun Assefa-Dawit, executive director of the advocacy group Tebeka, said there were few similarities. He said Ethiopian-Israelis have a different set of issues related to integration into Israel’s modern, fast-paced society — as opposed to maintaining a distinct subculture.

He called on Netanyahu to make Ethiopian absorption a keystone of his new administration, which is expected to take office in the coming days.

“Before it is too late, we call on the prime minister to take the matter into his own hands,” he said. “In four years, I would want to see this prime minister say ‘I’m glad I did’ instead of ‘I wish I had.'”

___

Associated Press writer Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.

___

Follow Heller on Twitter @aronhellerap

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Bay Area

Port of Oakland Aims to Help Agriculture Producers Export Products More Quickly

“The Port — along with our federal and state partners — is ready to do everything we can to help provide room and relief to help our agricultural customers,” said Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan in a statement. The yard is just one step the Port is taking to help agriculture exporters who have had fewer containers in Oakland with which to export their products.

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The Port of Oakland and the Oakland skyline in the late 2010s. (Photo courtesy the Port of Oakland/Kelly Patrick Dugan)
The Port of Oakland and the Oakland skyline in the late 2010s. (Photo courtesy the Port of Oakland/Kelly Patrick Dugan)

By Keith Burbank, Bay City News

The flow of agricultural exports may improve at the Port of Oakland after it sets aside quick-access space for containers, assists exporters, and if more cargo carriers restore service to Oakland, port officials said Monday.

Twenty-five acres will be used to operate an off-terminal, paved yard to store containers for rapid pick-up following their removal from chassis.

The yard, which may open in March, will allow trucks to turn around more quickly than is currently possible in the terminal. Agricultural exporters will also get help using the yard from state and federal agencies.

“The Port — along with our federal and state partners — is ready to do everything we can to help provide room and relief to help our agricultural customers,” said Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan in a statement.

The yard is just one step the Port is taking to help agriculture exporters who have had fewer containers in Oakland with which to export their products.

But it’s not entirely clear the yard will make a huge difference unless more ships stop at the Port to pick up the exports.

“We need the shipping companies to immediately restore the export lines from Oakland to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said.

Port officials have restored one key route to Tokyo and China. Also, four carriers have recently made Oakland their first stop en route from Asia. But that may not be enough to relieve the shortage of export containers in Oakland.

An import surge in the U.S. has ships waiting to offload cargo in Southern California. When they do, they offload cargo that would typically come to Oakland and then turn around and immediately go back to Asia.

The containers that could be used for exports never make it to Oakland.

Port cargo volume is typically 50% imports and 50% exports so usually enough containers exist at the Port.

Many agricultural exporters and meat producers prefer to ship their products through Oakland because it’s closer than other ports.

The container shortage has been a problem for a year. The problem recently prompted a meeting between farm producers, transportation executives and Port officials and resulted in the steps the Port is now taking.

A solution is important because the state’s agricultural export industry is worth billions of dollars.

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Bay Area

California Goes on Offensive as Omicron Variant Threat Grows 

“CA’s large-scale testing and early detection systems have found the Omicron COVID-19 variant in California,” Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted Dec. 1. “We should assume that it’s in other states as well. There’s no reason to panic — but we should remain vigilant. That means get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask indoors.”

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In California, the Omicron variant was first detected in San Francisco on December 1.
In California, the Omicron variant was first detected in San Francisco on December 1.

By Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

Three days after Thanksgiving, Gov. Gavin Newsom went online to address the new COVID-19 Omicron variant, a version of the virus with at least 50 mutations, according to the World Health Organization.

Twenty-six of those mutations have never been detected before, scientists say.

“California is monitoring the new variant,” Newsom tweeted. “We will continue to be guided by data and science. Right now, the best way we know to protect yourself is to get vaccinated and get your booster. Go today. Don’t wait.”

The variant was first identified by a South African scientist and has since surfaced in several other Southern African and European nations and has now been detected in at least 16 states in the United States, including California.

In California, the Omicron variant was first detected in San Francisco on December 1.

Since then, Alameda County public health officials have confirmed five new cases with mild symptoms. All of them were people who attended a wedding in Wisconsin where they likely contracted the virus.

Newsom responded to the news with a tweet last Wednesday.

“CA’s large-scale testing and early detection systems have found the Omicron COVID-19 variant in California,” Newsom tweeted Dec. 1. “We should assume that it’s in other states as well. There’s no reason to panic — but we should remain vigilant. That means get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask indoors.”

Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-San Diego), a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist, said the state has taken several steps to protect Californians and contain the variant, including “doubling down on COVID-19 vaccination and booster efforts to ensure that all Californians have access to safe, effective and free vaccines.”

Weber was speaking at a briefing organized for Black media on December 3. She said the California Department of Health is monitoring the presence of the variant throughout California and is partnering with the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support local public health departments and health care providers across the state.

“The state is also preparing to increase COVID-19 testing at airports across California for U.S. citizens and legal residents returning from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi,” she said. “These countries are where higher rates of Omicron have been observed and may shift over time.”

Last week, President Joe Biden also pushed for vaccines and boosters in preparation for this new variant on Twitter.

“As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises. For now, the best way to strengthen your protection if you’re already vaccinated is to get a booster shot, immediately,” Biden tweeted.

In a controversial move, Biden has issued a travel ban from eight African countries where the higher numbers of the variant have been reported.

“The WHO has identified a new COVID variant which is spreading through Southern Africa. As a precautionary measure, until we have more information, I am ordering air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries,” Biden tweeted.

This United States’ response has been met with some criticism from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our southern African sister countries to immediately and urgently reverse their decisions,” Ramaphosa said, arguing that the variant may have been detected in those countries, but there is no proof that it originated there.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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Commentary

COMMENTARY: Muslims in France Face Worsening Climate of Hate Under Leadership of President Macron

For France, which colonized Algeria for more than a century, the idea that people from the former colonies should live the life they want seems unbearable. Many white French people seem to have a fear that those from the former colonies may want to treat the descendants of the European French in the same way that the colonial masters treated us. Assuming always the worst for its Muslim citizens says a lot about the country and its beliefs.

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A demonstration in France by Muslims protesting their treatment under President Macron in 2020.
A demonstration in France by Muslims protesting their treatment under President Macron in 2020.

By Larbi Ben Krima

Editor’s Note: We are accustomed to hearing travel advisories telling us to avoid countries in the midst of civil war or government repression. Last month a Muslim civil rights organization warned Muslims not to travel to a country that many consider to be the birthplace of liberty. The author of this article, a French citizen, explains how France has become an oppressive place for Muslims.

I was born and raised in France to an Algerian family. I, like millions of other French citizens, heard about colonization and the mistreatment it created. There was some progress made, and now, piece by piece, that is being erased.

One year ago, in October 2020, French President Macron decided to launch his 2022 re-election campaign with a speech targeting Muslim people. He used terrorism as an excuse. Everybody in France knew it was really about politics, although the citizens of the world did not know that.

Macron’s government followed up by dissolving organizations that had criticized his Islamophobic government.

Schools, humanitarian NGO’s, mosques, publishing offices, and civil right movements with Muslim participants have been shut down by a government looking for Far Right votes in the next election.

France is still pretending to fight for rights around the world, but these rights are never really applied to its Muslim citizens, who are always seen as a Fifth Column and who always have to prove that they are French enough.

Every Muslim act is seen as a danger to the country. It seems that Muslim prayers threaten the French republic; Muslim food is seen as a challenge to the religion of other French people; and Muslim clothes are seen as an attempt to change France’s way of life. Most religions have special foods, and prayers and clothing. Having these customs should not be made so difficult for us after all these years. What’s the big deal?

For France, which colonized Algeria for more than a century, the idea that people from the former colonies should live the life they want seems unbearable. Many white French people seem to have a fear that those from the former colonies may want to treat the descendants of the European French in the same way that the colonial masters treated us. Assuming always the worst for its Muslim citizens says a lot about the country and its beliefs.

That may explain why this country, which refuses to take accountability for its colonial past, can’t accept the kids who are born and raised here.

Quoting the world-famous psychiatrist and political philosopher Frantz Fanon, “It should not be said that such and such a country is racist, but there are no lynchings or extermination camps there. The truth is, all of this and something more is on the horizon.”

We can say that racism runs deep in France’s institutions and politics, cheered on by the media, with applause from a substantial group who likes what they are hearing.

This is a country where an openly racist media pundit has growing support in his campaign for president, just as Donald Trump did.

France, which always despised the USA, has now became one of the United States of Islamophobia, along with China and India.

A former great country, known for its ideals, France has used its former glory around the world. Recently, the world has come to know what a very small country France has actually become a country that should stop preaching to others what it obviously refuses to apply to itself.

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