Twenty years after Israeli commandos accomplished the daring mission of
transporting some 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in less than 36 hours during
Operation Solomon, leaders of the 116,000 strong community called on the
government Monday to institute a series of affirmative action laws to address
discrimination against Ethiopians.
One such measure would increase
representation of Ethiopians in the media, the public sector and
academia.RELATED:NGO slams policy putting Ethiopian olim in specific areasOn their own
“It is time to make a change. It is time to see a color other
than white on Israeli television,” said Ethiopian-born actress Meskie Shibru,
one of a handful of immigrants who has found success on the Israeli
“There needs to be more efforts made here and, at least [the
government-owned] Channel 1 could find a space for more diversity,” she
Shibru’s call was echoed throughout a three-hour long meeting of
the Knesset’s Aliya, Absorption and Diaspora Committee, chaired by MK Danny
The meeting was called to evaluate and recognize the
significance of Operation Solomon, which took place May 24-25, 1991.
never forget the excitement in this country when the planes arrived bringing the
new immigrants to Israel,” MK Ofer Akunis (Likud) said.
“Some say that
the goal of Israel is to make peace, but I believe that the true goal of Zionism
is to bring Jews from all over the world to here.”
Akunis said he
recognized the discrimination faced by Ethiopian immigrants in society and vowed
to push affirmative action legislation “until we reach full equality and a there
is not need for such a law.”
Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa
Landver, who also attended Monday’s hearing, told The Jerusalem Post
office was committed to raising the profile and improving the conditions of the
“There is a real problem in Israeli society and
every chance that I have, I try to talk about this issue [of discrimination],”
she told the Post, highlighting the wide range of festivals and official
ceremonies that have taken place in recent years to promote Ethiopian culture
Next week the government will mark the first mass
immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel – Operation Moses – in a ceremony at
Mount Herzl to remember those who lost their lives on the journey from Ethiopia
to Israel via Sudan.
“I have been to Ethiopia and I realize how far the
community has come,” said Landver, who last year became the first immigrant
absorption minister to tour Addis Ababa and Gondar.
During the tour, she
met with the Falash Mura Ethiopians of Jewish descent whose ancestors converted
to Christianity more than 150 years ago, and who are waiting for the government
to approve them for aliya.
“I saw how much they are suffering in Ethiopia
and how far they travel [in terms of modernity] from there to here,” Landver
said, adding that upon arrival in Israel, community members undergo huge hurdles
to integrate into society.
According to a report released last January by
the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs, an unusually high number of
Ethiopian immigrants receive treatment from the country’s welfare services and a
large percentage of families live below the poverty line.
Alemu, head of the umbrella organization of Ethiopian Jews that represents 32
non-profits working within the community, said the overwhelming poverty faced by
Ethiopians was symptomatic of the local society.
“How can it be that
people who work so hard, who study and gain degrees, but cannot even afford
their rent or to buy a house?” he asked at Monday’s hearing, which also included
presentations from Ethiopian Chief Rabbi Yoseph Adana and many of the officials
involved in Operation Solomon, such as Micha Feldman, Jewish Agency for Israel
“Poverty does not fall from the sky. There are two things that
cause poverty: One is a person who refuses to work and earn a living and the
other cause is a society that does not accept different people,” Alemu
He added that despite the wide range of services and investments in
the community, the funds are not reaching the correct places.
Meharet, head of the Education Ministry’s steering committee on Ethiopian
immigrants, said, the last 20 years had seen some great
Meharet pointed to the education sector, where he said roughly
40 percent of Ethiopian youth now graduate from high school.
“We can look
back over the last 20 years and see successes, but in order for us to be
successful in the next 20 years, we must also see where we went wrong and what
we can learn from this,” Meharet said.
“There are some real problems and
there needs to be a change in the approach.”
The Knesset’s only Ethiopian
member, MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima), called for affirmative action legislation in
the education and public sector.
Molla said it was time for the country
to establish a commemorative center for the Ethiopian community, to celebrate
its culture and traditions, and pay tribute to the intricate history that
brought them to the Jewish state.