An Ethiopian woman holds a sign that says "Mom, I want to go to kindergarten.".
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Two years after the Prime Minister’s Office launched a program to aid the integration of citizens of Ethiopian origin into society, a ministerial committee welcomed the resulting winds of change as they reviewed a report on the initiative Wednesday morning in the Knesset.
The report was written by a division established in the PMO last November to implement the program.
The division – headed by Talal Dolev and composed of five members – includes three Ethiopian Israelis. A previous government program to tackle similar issues was heavily criticized for its lack of coordination or clear objectives by the state comptroller in a 2013 report.
The current program is part of a government response to protests that swept the country two years ago, after a video emerged in April 2015 of two policeman assaulting an IDF soldier in Holon. That led to hundreds of protesters marching in Jerusalem and decrying police brutality and racism. The video triggered a series of protests about racism in Israel in general and discrimination against Ethiopians in particular.
Members of the new division are hopeful about the current project.
The director of the government’s integration program, Kasaey Damoza, described a “feeling of something changing,” though she said it was too early to see concrete results.
The program – which costs NIS 170 million a year – has thus far implemented 59 of its 71 planned projects in some 35 municipalities.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted an improvement in integration of Ethiopian Israelis in the IDF in 2016.
“These are good results and are thanks to the program we have advanced here,” he said.
The report noted a 14% increase – representing 898 total soldiers – in the number of Ethiopians participating in professional post-army service programs in 2016 compared with 2015. That number is expected to grow to 1,175 in the coming year.
The plan seeks not just to close gaps among the weaker members of society but to help their presence grow at the “top” of society.
“We have great tasks ahead of us and lots of work,” Netanyahu said.
“One can see a significant change as a result of the work mechanisms of this committee and as a result of the discourse that is taking place here.”
MK Avraham Neguise of the Likud, chairman of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs,, said: “The establishment of the ministerial committee headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for the first time approved significant programs with budgets to implement them, and in cooperation with members of the community. This is an important message in the change in policy for the optimal integration of Ethiopian immigrants into Israeli society. This important message is beginning to be absorbed by all government ministries. The gates, which were closed to Ethiopian Israelis, have begun to open. As a result, Ethiopian immigrants have the chance to compete for senior positions, the most prominent of which are the appointment of two justices, a colonel in the IDF and two deputy major-generals in the Israeli police.”
Three new programs aimed at promoting leadership and excellence among Ethiopian immigrants were approved by the ministerial committee: investment in promoting higher education across the board among Ethiopians, encouraging the participation of Ethiopian children in extracurricular activities via vouchers distributed for this purpose, and providing for an increase in Ethiopian-owned businesses via interest-free loans.
Among the notable activities implemented this year was an Education Ministry program that increased Ethiopian participation in programs for outstanding students from 449 pupils to 1,187. A mortgage-subsidy program run by the Construction Ministry reported that out of 250 families who received a reduced interest rate mortgage, about 145 began the process of realizing their entitlement to purchase an apartment.
Another 27 families have already completed the purchase process.
“There is work being done and slowly we’ll see the results,” Damoza told The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday. The program involves efforts by multiple ministries to promote integration of Ethiopians.
“The fact that all the ministers are talking the same language is really important,” she emphasized. “For everyone to understand that this is a national goal, everyone needs to speak the same language... This is very serious progress.”
Damoza also stressed the importance of this interministerial collaboration in giving equal resources to every aspect of society, from education, to social welfare, to the army and employment.
“We don’t give just to education or to the army – we think you need to give in every aspect of life and then you’ll see the change,” Damoza explained.
“We need to make sure Ethiopians have the same needs as every citizen – you need to treat them like every other citizen but it’s not obvious – and that’s sad.”