Ethiopian immigrants can be leaders too

"I want dream that in the near future an Ethiopian could be appointed chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency."

March 4, 2013 20:17
3 minute read.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky [file]

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)

I want to be courageous and to dream that in the near future an Ethiopian immigrant could be appointed chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency.

Natan Sharansky was unanimously chosen to continue to lead the agency for another term.

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For me, Sharansky symbolizes national Zionist pride. He fought with all his heart to free Jews in the former Soviet Union, Jews who were imprisoned and tortured for the sole reason that they had expressed a desire to live in the Jewish state. Like Jews throughout the world, they had dreamed and prayed for generations to have the freedom to build a home in the Land of Israel. To live freely as Jews in a democratic state that belonged to them, and to fulfill the vision of the prophets.

Sharansky fulfilled his dream when he served as an MK and as minister in the Knesset, as well as chairman of the Jewish Agency. It is time now for an Ethiopian immigrant to serve as chairman of the Jewish Agency. The world Jewish community played a large role in bringing the Jews of Ethiopia to the Land of Israel in secrecy, and through hostile countries. The Beta Israel community, which has been Jewish from the beginning, is loyal to the State of Israel. The world Jewish community, the economic backbone of the Jewish Agency, needs to do some deep thinking and open up its institutions to the Jews of Ethiopia.

Immigrants from Ethiopia are capable of running organizations such as the Jewish agency and the JDC Israel.

It’s time for society to accept that a leader from the Ethiopian community is capable of leading the Jewish Agency. The community has integrated into Israeli society and a large number of veteran immigrants have been living in Israel now for a few decades.

Granted they came from Ethiopia, a country still in the process of developing, and many do not speak English well, but they can improve their language skills. We must not put up barriers to their progress.

The Jewish Agency is meant to act as a bridge between the various Jewish communities throughout the world, to encourage Jews to make aliyah to Israel, to build their homes here, a place where there is freedom of religion and no anti-Semitism.

The Jewish Agency needs to become more multicultural, and not shy away from including in its leadership Jews from Africa. The Israeli leadership needs to steer clear of prejudice and racism. In addition, political parties need to take practical steps toward incorporating Ethiopian immigrants in leadership positions, and not just add them to their lists as decoration during election periods in an effort to win the Ethiopian vote.

Ethiopians should be integrated into state institutions wherever possible.

Sadly, laws that have recently been passed in the Knesset aimed at including Ethiopian immigrants in civil service on the basis of affirmative action, and minimum representation in local authorities and government companies, are lauded, but in reality nothing has really changed. It is not enough that laws have been passed; local authority heads must alter their view and understand that Ethiopian immigrants are residents and have rights too.

It is extremely important that the Jewish Agency board and local authority heads internalize that Israeli society no longer accepts racism. Social networks have helped break down the racism barrier for Ethiopian immigrants and have provided them with a forum to expose the Beta Israel community publicly.

Unfortunately, local authority heads and state institutions continue to live in their little bubble.

They refuse to accept the fact that Ethiopian immigrants are here to stay, that they are citizens who deserve equal rights, and who wish to serve their country as proud Jews.

The writer is an Ethiopian-Israeli activist.

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