JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Ethiopian-Israeli soldier who was beaten by police officers for coming out against violence, calling it “true leadership.”
On Monday, Netanyahu met with Damas Pakada, whose beating last week was captured on videotape. The attack spurred violent demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu told Pakada that he was shocked by the beating and said it cannot be accepted.
“The police will do whatever it takes to correct itself, but we need to fix Israeli society,” Netanyahu said. He called the violent protests a result of “genuine distress.”
Netanyahu also told Pakada: “I heard that you said that you are against violence. This is important, this is the statement of a leader. You are an exemplary soldier and you are an example to others.”
Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino apologized to Pakada on behalf of the Israel Police and informed him that the officer who beat him was fired immediately.
Also Monday, President Reuven Rivlin said Israeli society has “erred” when it comes to the plight of Ethiopian Jews in Israel.
“The protesters, in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv, revealed an open and raw wound at the heart of Israeli society,” Rivlin said. “The pain of a community crying out over a sense of discrimination, racism and of being unanswered. We must look directly at this open wound. We have erred. We did not look, and we did not listen enough.”
Addressing the demonstration Sunday night in Tel Aviv that injured more than 40 police and demonstrators, Rivlin made his remarks prior to a meeting with the heads of haredi Orthodox municipalities and local councils.
“Among the protesters on the streets were some of our finest sons and daughters: outstanding students, those who served in the IDF. We owe them answers,” Rivlin said.
The president said that protests are “an essential tool in democracy,” but added that “violence is neither the way nor the solution” and that “we must not allow a handful of violent trouble makers to drown-out the legitimate voices of protest.”
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky in a statement called on all Israelis to “listen carefully, help foster a more constructive discourse, and mobilize to improve the situation in a real and tangible way.” He called on protesters “to exercise good judgment and moderation, to respect the law and public order, and to utilize the societal conversation that has been started” to achieve their goals.