Ethiopian Jews protest.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If we take a moment to closely examine the Ethiopian community in Israel and the
community of foreign workers here we are liable to find quite similar points of
comparison in society’s attitudes to them. We might assume that this is due to
the color of their skin and the inability of Israelis to lay aside the racism so
inherent in our society, but it might simply be due to the constant attempts to
identify anyone who is different and to defend oneself against him.
since the establishment of the state we have witnessed large waves of aliya to
Israel, each from a different country, but all met here with a cold shoulder of
scorn, rejection and lack of respect. Whatever their culture or their
contribution to the advancement of the State of Israel, the initial reaction by
the public is to push them to the margins in an attempt to represent them as
foreign and different so that we can find in their background a reinforcement of
our national identity.
Due to the existential fears caused by the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, our prejudices first focused on “death to the
Arabs,” but soon we discovered that “Russian women follow the oldest profession”
and that “Ethiopians stink,” and these beliefs were reinforced by letters from
rabbis and racist statements by elected officials. But then it began to seem
that the Israeli public had become so unfeeling that the ethnic divides in our
society were no longer a strong enough motivation for banishing the stranger,
the weak and the different from our midst and so a new method was found –
casting doubt on their Jewishness.
Suddenly we had a new reason to make
them different from us.
This phenomenon has long been a disease in our
society, and the state does nothing to prevent the spreading anger against
various population groups, while we, as a society, find ourselves looking for
someone new who we can set up as the “other.”
It is not surprising
therefore that it is now the turn of the foreign workers.
They are the
ultimate outsiders – different in the color of their skin, in their culture, in
their language, and as an added bonus, they are not even Jewish! WHEN THE
members of my community left Ethiopia to come to Israel, we first arrived in
Sudan as refugees and we, too, suffered from decrees that forbade us to work, to
shop in the market, to use social services – and all these restrictions were
merely to prevent the possibility of our living normal lives.
even further and sent us to prison, raped our daughters, cursed our old people,
starved us and abused us mentally and physically – and the sad result was that
some 4,000 of our people lost their lives. One of them was my
One of the most frightening aspects of the discourse that has
developed in recent years is the phenomenon of unbridled elected officials whose
words include incitement to hatred and nationalism. They do this to set their
voters against anyone who is different in an attempt to derive political
Attempts by public figures to show that the only way to drive out
the outsiders is through intimidation or acts of cruelty can only arouse
The mere thought of stirring up the public against the foreign
workers through provocations and malicious ideas indicates a total lack of
respect for the values of Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state.
is it possible that our people, whose past includes such significant historical
events as slavery in Egypt, expulsions and inquisitions around the world, who
are the descendants of Holocaust survivors, can still consider causing such
suffering to others.
There is no doubt that this crisis demands a quick
solution, because the phenomenon of the infiltrators is the result of mistakes
by Israeli governments and of the “revolving door” effect in regard to bringing
in foreign workers. And so, as long as they are here with us, we are responsible
for their lives, their health and their rights.
Democracy and human
rights cannot be combined with abuse of the different, the other.The
writer is an MK.