JERUSALEM — A slender and boyish-looking Israeli soldier, wearing a skullcap and an army shirt with sleeves too long for him, has become the unlikely and unwitting face of an outburst of anger and violent protests that have shaken Israel.
But Demas Fikadey, a 21-year-old soldier of Ethiopian descent, said he did not see himself as a symbol or a hero.
He was heading home alone, in uniform, on April 26 when he was beaten by two Israeli police officers in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon, where he lives. The seemingly unprovoked assault, caught on video, was broadcast on national television and went viral on social networks, unleashing the pent-up rage of a young generation of Ethiopian-Israelis who have taken to the streets in recent days.
Mr. Fikadey said he was opposed to violence, and as a soldier on active duty, he could not join the protesters. “But my heart is with them,” he said.
Mr. Fikadey came to Israel seven years ago from the Gojam region in Ethiopia. His father died before the family left for Israel, and his mother died a couple of years after their arrival, according to Selah, an Israeli nongovernmental organization that supports vulnerable immigrants and that has aided Mr. Fikadey and his four brothers.