Israeli Ethiopians protest racism

Jerusalem - About 1 500 Israelis, mainly of Ethiopian origin, staged a protest against racism and discrimination outside the parliament in Jerusalem on Wednesday, an AFP correspondent said.

The predominantly young protesters, bearing banners with slogans reading "An end to racism" and "A new generation demands change," were galvanised into action after reports last week that some residents in the town of Kiryat Malachi were refusing to rent or sell flats to Ethiopian Jews.

Some of the Ethiopian Israeli demonstrators daubed white paint on their faces, while other Israelis painted their faces black.

Several MPs were among the protesters, including Shlomo Molla of the opposition Kadima party, who is himself of Ethiopian origin.

"Ethiopians are the first victims of racism, but the problem afflicts the entire nation," he told AFP.

Mulat Araru, a 26-year-old student from the southern port city of Ashdod, arrived at the rally after a three-day march from Kiryat Malachi.

"A small group can make big achievements," he told AFP. "Our struggle is just. Civilian society in Israel is changing."

The activists were calling for legislation against racism, Araru explained.

"We want to change Israeli society from the inside," he said.

After the protest, the demonstrators marched to the home of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently in Holland.

More than 120 000 Jews of Ethiopian origin live in Israel.

For centuries, Jews in Ethiopia were largely cut off from other Jewish communities, and Israel's religious authorities only belatedly recognised them as members of the faith.

The move sparked two waves of immigration to Israel, in 1984 and 1991, but Ethiopian immigrants have struggled to integrate into Israeli society, despite massive government aid.

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