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Israeli police detains an Israeli Ethiopian during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, Sunday, May 3, 2015.Tsafrir Abayov/The Associated Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved quickly to stanch the fallout from race riots that gripped both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on the weekend. Israeli Jews of Ethiopian descent, protesting what they allege is frequent brutality by Israeli police, encountered violent resistance from security forces.

Mr. Netanyahu met Monday with Damas Pakedeh, a 21-year-old Israeli soldier, who was recorded by a video surveillance camera being beaten last week by two policemen in Holon, a community just south of Tel Aviv.

"I was shocked by the pictures that I saw," Mr. Netanyahu told the young man. "We cannot accept inflammatory rhetoric, racism, looking down on people and the beating of an IDF soldier," he said, referring to the Israel Defence Forces.

"We cannot accept this and the police are dealing with it. We need to change things."

What has changed already is the Ethiopian community's response to this latest incident of brutality. When the video of the Holon assault went viral, it spurred the community to action.

This time they weren't going to stay quiet, not when they had the evidence of the kind of abuse of which Ethiopian Israelis have complained for a long time.

A 1,000-person protest march in Jerusalem Thursday night became violent when it was met with a heavy-handed police response of tear gas and water cannons. Officials say the security forces were taken by surprise when the march turned toward Mr. Netanyahu's residence and may have overreacted.

On Sunday in Tel Aviv, a peaceful march by at least 3,000 Ethiopian Israelis and supporters turned into the worst riot the city has seen in years. For several hours, police deployed horseback-mounted officers, tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons to repel the crowd. The demonstrators struck at the police with fireworks, bottles and rocks.

About 50 people were injured, half of them police officers. Some 26 protesters were arrested.

Israel watchers could not recall another time that such police tactics were used against Israeli Jews in Israel.

Remarkably, Mr. Pakedeh, speaking to Army Radio prior to his meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, called for an end to "violence against citizens and against police." He told the members of his Ethiopian Israeli community, "It's important that they hear our side, but violence will not solve the problem."

"This is the statement of a leader," Mr. Netanyahu told him when the two men met. "You are an example to others."

Discrimination has been a gnawing problem since soon after the first Ethiopian Jews arrived.

The early surreptitious flights to rescue thousands from war and hunger in East Africa were mounted in the mid-1980s and dubbed Operation Moses.

Although leading rabbis had recognized these Ethiopians as Jews, others insisted they undergo the stigma of ritual baths to convert them to Judaism before they could be married.

Then came discrimination in housing, in school enrolment. In the mid-1990s, shortly after the second wave of Jews had been brought from Ethiopia by Operation Solomon, Israeli health officials were found to be discarding blood donations by Ethiopians for fear of HIV contamination.

Later, it was revealed that officials also had been insisting that Ethiopian women take long-term birth-control injections to keep down the Ethiopian population.

Today, more than a third of Ethiopian Israeli families live below the poverty line, compared with 14 per cent of Israelis as a whole. Ethiopian households earn 35 per cent less than the national average and only half of their children receive a high school diploma.

Ethiopians enlist in the army in higher numbers than any other Israeli group, probably viewing the institution as a means to better integration in society. But a high percentage of them are discharged early; many end up in military prison.

To be sure, some Ethiopian Israelis have done well. Many have successful careers: An Ethiopian woman won the Miss Israel pageant in 2013 and an Ethiopian Israeli doctor was cited as a hero for his role in rescue operations in Nepal last week.