An Israeli of Ethiopian descent shouts at a police officer during a protest in Tel Aviv Photo: REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Benjamin Netanyahu has urged the country to unite and denounce racism - a day after security forces fought pitched battles with crowds protesting against police violence and the discrimination of the country's Ethiopian community.
The Israeli prime minister's comments were an attempt to placate the community on Monday and came amid a national mood of soul searchingtriggered by chaotic scenes in Tel Aviv in which police used tear gas and stun grenades and arrested dozens of demonstrators angered by video footage of officers assaulting an Israeli-Ethiopian soldier last week.
Mr Netanyahu also hosted a delegation of Ethiopian leaders and met Demas Fekadeh, the soldier whose beating has sparked protests among the community.
During his meeting, Mr Netanyahu told Mr Fekadeh that he was "horrified" by the images showing him being attacked by two officers, one of whom has since been sacked.
"We must stand together as one against the phenomenon of racism, to denounce it and eliminate it," he said.
Reuven Rivlin, the Israeli president, described the complaints of discrimination by the country's Ethiopian community as an "open wound".
"We must look directly at this open wound," said Mr Rivlin, who has become an outspoken campaigner against racism and discrimination – mainly against Israel's Arab population – since taking office last summer.
"We have erred. We did not look, and we did not listen enough. Among the protesters on the streets, were some of our finest sons and daughters; outstanding students; those who served in the IDF [army]. We owe them answers."
Fentahun Assefa-Dawit, executive director of Tebeka, an Ethiopian advocacy group, and one of the leader meeting Mr Netanyahu, urged the prime minister to make ending anti-Ethiopian discrimination a priority in his new government.
"We call on the prime minister to take matter into his own hands," he told journalists. "We want him to bring these problems to an end by establishing a committee that investigates everything."
Some 51 police officers and seven protesters were injured, and 43 people were arrested after violence broke out in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square area on Sunday.
It came three days after police clashed with Ethiopian demonstrators last Thursday after they tried to march on Mr Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem.
Israel's 135,000-strong Ethiopian community – most of whom are officially recognised as descendants of an ancient Jewish tribe – emigrated to the country in two waves in 1984 and 1991, many of them being airlifted in a covert military operation.
Many have encountered severe integration problems and say they face discrimination in employment, housing and education, as well as harassment at the hands of the police.