The first Ethiopian-born member of Knesset, who left the country after he failed to retain his seat, has been living in Ethiopia, away from his wife and daughters, in order to make a living.
In an interview aired on Channel 2 Saturday night, Adisu Massala told a reporter that he has been following the protests of his compatriots in Israel with dismay.
The report showed him sitting in front of a computer screen and watching footage of violent clashes between Ethiopian-Israeli protesters and police at a demonstration in Tel Aviv last Sunday. He turned away from the screen. “This is a battle; it’s like a war,” he said.
The protest in Tel Aviv, which devolved into a riot and saw some 60 people injured, followed a similar demonstration in Jerusalem.
Members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community say they are protesting years of institutional racism and discrimination, as well as ongoing police brutality. The release of a video showing police beating an Ethiopian-born soldier, apparently unprovoked, sparked the protests.
As a community leader, Massala led several protests of the Ethiopian-Israeli community in the 1980s and ‘90s, including against the mandatory conversion to Judaism of all immigrants from Ethiopia — even though they said they had Jewish parentage — and a decision to surreptitiously dispose of blood donated by members of the community for fear of disease.
“I’m sorry to see that the younger generation is protesting over the same issues that I [fought for] thirty years ago,” he said. Watching the footage of the riot, he said, he felt guilty being away from his comrades as they fought for their rights. “Members of my community are protesting, and I’m not alongside them,” he said.
Massala, 53, joined the Marxist underground in Ethiopia when he was 15 years old, and was eventually forced to flee the country.
He arrived in Israel in 1980, and after years of community activism was voted into the Knesset as a member of the center-left Labor Party in 1996. Three years later, he lost his Knesset seat to Sofa Landver, who is currently the outgoing immigration absorption minister from the Yisrael Beytenu party.
In an impassioned speech, standing alongside then-Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, he alleged that racism played a part in preferring the Soviet-born Landver over him in the primaries.
For the last six years he has been residing in Addis Ababa’s upscale Bole neighborhood, where he works as a lobbyist of sorts, using his connections in both countries to promote the interests of Israeli companies doing business in Ethiopia.
His wife and three daughters remain in Bat Yam, and he makes an effort to spend the Jewish festivals with them.
Massala said that he misses his family, and implied that he only returned to Ethiopia after he failed to find suitable work outside politics. “You know,” he said, “former MKs find a new job very soon after leaving the Knesset — in public companies, in directorates. They have a name and that name advances those companies.” But after he left the parliament, no one offered him a job, he said.
Some of the bitterness still remains.
“Israeli society is an aggressive society, a society that doesn’t make room to the other within it,” he said.
“I returned to my homeland; it’s a wonderful place,” he said, although he still misses the “Israeli warmth.”
“I found my place. I feel at home here,” Massala added. “But that doesn’t mean that Israel isn’t also my home.”