Why is it that the Israeli media, which hastened to defend the dignity of a
Nigerian cleaning woman and described in great detail an Eritrean mother’s
longing for her child, refrains from publishing passionate and moving editorials
on the plight of the Ethiopian Israeli community? Why is it that when it comes
to displaying similar solidarity with tens of thousands of loyal Israeli
citizens, their voices suddenly turn silent?
Perhaps the answer to this question
lies in the slogan chanted by the crowd at last week’s demonstration: “I stand
here to remind those who have forgotten: Ashkenazi Jew, Sephardic Jew, Ethiopian
Jew – we are all brothers!” Could it be that the central message of the
Ethiopian community – national pride and strong Jewish values – have caused the
media to avoid the issue?
To explain this phenomenon one must put it in
historical context: Ethiopian Jewish immigration was driven primarily by
passionate Zionism. There is concrete evidence of Ethiopian Jewish
attempts to make aliya (on foot) to Jerusalem in 1860, well before Herzl’s
political Zionism and decades before the First Zionist Congress. Call it “black
Much time has passed since the days of these pioneers:
Ethiopian Jews who immigrated to Israel in recent decades have been victims of
many instances of discrimination and racism, mostly from institutions, as
reflected in the data analysis published by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry.
Other instances of racism, the ones that have reached the mainstream media, have
been mainly from neighbors and in work relationships.
demand justice. They demand equality. They demand that the color of their
skin be not an impediment in the workplace or academia. They demand to be judged
by their actions and achievements. They do not want housing prices to
drop when they move into a neighborhood.
The Ethiopian Israeli community
protests out of a genuine demand for Jewish solidarity, as sons and daughters of
the Jewish nation, in the nation-state of the Jewish people. Their
demands are motivated not only by the international and universal values that
are the focus of the Israeli media, but also by national, Jewish values, which
the Israeli media often snubs.
Echoes of this worldview could be sensed
in newspaper articles critical of Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s initiative
to encourage Israeli children to learn about Zionism’s struggles for political
independence via stories about Israel’s fallen soldiers, and opposition to his
initiative to sponsor school field trips to Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs and
the Old City of Jerusalem.
Ethiopian Israelis want integration based on
shared values: Judaism, military service and higher education, through which
they can express their individual contributions to the Jewish state. This fealty
to Jewish values has led them to be perceived as the “enemy” by those who claim
to be proponents of the universalist view, which is particularly wary of
national values and which has a strong hold on the media.
mean that the Israeli media sees the Ethiopian community as a literal “enemy,”
but given the fact that the base demand for equality is rooted in
national-Jewish values, the Israeli media simply does not see the Ethiopian
community as an ally in promoting the universal perspective.
FACTOR which prevents the media from embracing the Ethiopian- Israeli cause is
the fact that it has been, at least ostensibly – apolitical. The press
(in general) has ceased to see itself as only the “watchdog of democracy,” and
considers itself a political actor for all intents and purposes. The key role
that the media plays in a democracy, namely bringing the events of the day into
the watchful eye of the public, exposing government corruption and
irregularities and able interpretation of all these are no longer at the center
of the media’s agenda.
Media nowadays is interested in shaping the public
agenda, not reporting on it. This can be seen from recent editorials published
in major newspapers.
The Ethiopian-Israeli community’s struggle for
essential civil equality does not seek to eliminate or replace the current
coalition government, nor is it tied to any one political
view. Therefore, unlike last summer’s social protest during which the
current government was denounced, the media simply sees no reason to give a
stage to the Ethiopian-Israeli struggle.
Erasmus of Rotterdam, besides
being an early proponent of humanistic education, was the one who claimed that
human beings become humane through a process of humanization that includes
education and socialization. Recent history teaches us that education may also
lead to dehumanization of man; education for the ennoblement of a certain race
over another also strips people of their humanity.
But feelings of
national pride are appropriate, as long as they do not reject the legitimacy of
other ethnic groups and their legitimate ethnic pride and
Those of us who believe in both Judaism’s universalist ethic
as well as the moral humanism and the values of Zionism (i.e., Jewish National
Movement) believe that the contradiction between these streams can and must be
resolved. The existence of a healthy, moral Israeli society requires us to
implement the ethical, universal teachings of both the Talmudic scholar Hillel
the Elder and German philosopher Immanuel Kant: That which is hateful to you, do
not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah. Human beings are sacred in
their own right; they must never be used as mere means to an end.
a message that the Israeli media would do well to consider.
has a law degree and is research student at the Interdisciplinary Center,
Herzliya (IDC). Moreover, he leads Youth for Justice group at Tebeka- Advocacy
for Equality and Justice for Ethiopian Israelis.