Awake Mengistu will make history next Tuesday if he is voted mayor of Kiryat
But Mengistu, the first Ethiopian- Israeli candidate for mayor
of a city, isn’t just interested in being “a first.” He intends to confront
racism in Israel by improving things in the city of some 23,500
Mengistu founded his campaign on the belief that leading a local
government enables one to effect change. With this authority, he said on
Tuesday, he plans to move Kiryat Malachi past its history of discrimination
against Ethiopians and government corruption, which includes mayor Moti Malcha
(2003- 2012) being convicted of sexual harassment of two subordinates and
violating planning regulations and former president Moshe Katsav, who was mayor
of the city in 1969 and from 1974 to 1981, being convicted of
Mengistu, 27, made aliya from Ethiopia when he was five. He
explained that his belief in the power of local politics and grassroots
movements began in January 2012, when he and thousands of other demonstrators
protested racism in Kiryat Malachi. After a Channel 2 segment showed a Kiryat
Malachi neighborhood council agreeing not to sell or rent to Ethiopians,
thousands of protesters including Mengistu gathered in Kiryat Malachi. They
later marched the 50 km. or so northeast to Jerusalem and demanded the Knesset
enact more forceful measures to prevent racism against
Mengistu said his involvement in the demonstrations
taught him that political activism was a way to reform society. But to combat
racism nationally, he insists that change must start locally.
the younger generation in school and through community participation will begin
to confront discrimination in Kiryat Malachi, he said. Education will shape
“good students” who will be “good influences on their environment.”
not “only education in a classroom,” Mengistu said. “We’re talking about
non-formal education like through youth movements, or even taking an empty
bottle and putting it in the garbage.”
Mengistu and his campaign, Eden
Hadash (“New Era”), which is part of Yesh Atid’s candidates list, say that
improving education in Kiryat Malachi will not only benefit the city; it will
put Israel on course to eventually overcome racism against
Nurit Tizazu, part of Eden Hadash, admitted their campaign is
“only the beginning of this process.”
But “this is the goal of our
generation,” that Ethiopians will be considered equal in Israel in two or three
decades at most, Tizazu said.
Deputy Knesset Speaker Pnina Tamnu-Shata
(Yesh Atid), the first Ethiopian woman in the legislature, said Mengistu or
another Ethiopian becoming mayor is a necessary step to defeating racism in
“If we want to win [against] all this discrimination, we need to
put people in front like Awake,” Tamnu- Shata said. It is essential that racism
be confronted in the Knesset in addition to locally, she said.
plans to create employment opportunities and affordable housing in Kiryat
Malachi, raise the school system’s grade-point-average and improve the city’s
social welfare programs.
But one of the main criticisms of Mengistu is
his youth and inexperience.
He has never held political office and just
graduated from Bar- Ilan University after serving as a staff-sergeant in the
Givati infantry brigade’s reconnaissance company.
Mengistu, who is
competing against five other candidates, is behind in recent polls. He said that
in the most current survey, 11 percent of the respondents supported him. This
was an improvement over the two previous polls that predicted him wining just 4%
and 5%, respectively.
Mengistu said that none of these polls included
Ethiopians, who make up approximately 30% of Kiryat Malachi’s voters.
of the front-runners are Lalo Zohar, a well-liked city councilman, and Yossi
Hadad, the incumbent mayor who replaced Malcha after he resigned.
he doesn’t win the mayoral race, Mengistu, along with Tizazu and Shei Sium, who
is third on Eden Hadash’s ticket, will be elected to the city council if the
list receives approximately 2,000 votes. Sium said it would be just as great a
win if three of Kiryat Malachi’s 13 city council members were
But Sium and Mengistu wonder if gaining support for city
council will be hard because they are Ethiopian.
Sium said that one of
the obstacles to their campaign is that four of Eden Hadash’s five candidates
are Ethiopian. Someone, according to Shei, first notices four black candidates
on their campaign banner.
Mengistu said another criticism against him is
simply that “I’m black.”
“Why is it an issue he is the first Ethiopian
running [for mayor]?” Tizazu asked. “It’s a strong question for our society.”