Q&A with Tsega Melaku

"It has to be understood that we did not come here just for a few years to find a better life outside of Ethiopia, we came to live here forever."

By
December 31, 2008 21:16
4 minute read.

 
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What are your initial plans for Reshet Alef? Firstly, I plan to keep up the high quality of our programming, but I also want to break down the elitist approach to culture in this country and make sure that everyone can get his say, not just those who are from Tel Aviv. I want everyone to be able to hold the microphone and speak out about issues. Hopefully I will also have the chance to expand the type of programs that we run to include shows about green issues, consumer guidelines and programs for women. Currently, there are shows for teens and young children but I want to fill in the gaps. Does radio still have a place in our hi-tech society? Radio can be heard anywhere, on the computer, in the car and at home. All over the world, radio is the only communication tool that has continued to grow in an era of advanced technology. Even those with new third-generation mobile phones can use them to listen to radio broadcasts everywhere. I truly believe that radio has proved itself in the modern world and it is a very important part of a democracy. Why is it so difficult for other Ethiopian immigrants to get ahead in their professions? After many Ethiopians finish their studies, they find it very difficult to break into their professions. Israel is a country run on the basis of protektzia [personal connections], and in the Ethiopian community we do not have a lot of contacts in high places. In addition, working for government bodies means taking a psychometric test. I took that test once when I was a student, and it was a cultural exam more than a test of my knowledge. Many Ethiopians struggle with such cultural questions. If all that changes, then there is no real reason why we cannot break into the mainstream. It is just a matter of hard work by us and by Israeli society in general. Are the difficulties faced by Ethiopians simply a variation on the challenges experienced by all new immigrants? The difference with Ethiopian immigrants is that the starting point of our community is completely different to other new immigrants. The gap between the Ethiopian community and Israeli society in general is just too huge to be filled within one or two generations. I know there are some Ethiopian politicians who have been really successful, but the big change will not come from the top. It has to come from the bottom upward and has to span a much wider area. There have to be Ethiopian teachers in the schools, doctors in hospitals and in high positions within government offices. The private sector also needs to be more accepting. Once we see Ethiopian faces in these places, the changes will come. What can the Ethiopian community do to improve the situation? The challenge does not just belong to the Ethiopian community; it is the challenge of the entire Israeli public. If we don't succeed in integrating, it is not only the Ethiopians who will pay the price. Already there is a real problem with the youth of our community who do not feel connected or accepted. At the same time, they do not relate to their immigrant parents either and end up feeling completely lost. In fact, many of them identify more with African-Americans or Jamaican culture than the culture here. How can society better integrate the community? There needs to be much more of an investment in education and society needs to know that we are here to stay. It has to be understood that we did not come here just for a few years to find a better life outside of Ethiopia, we came to live here forever. The school curriculum should include sections on Ethiopian Jewish history, so that all Israelis better understand our community and where we come from. In addition, it should be natural for us to see children with my color skin on TV shows or advertisements. Every program should have an Ethiopian child so that we are made more visible. For example, I would like to see Ethiopian babies in an advertisement for diapers or Ethiopian children advertising Milky or Bamba. Does the election of African-American Barack Obama to the US presidency give Ethiopian-Israelis hope that one day they too can be fully accepted by white Israelis? I don't think that we should compare ourselves to African-Americans. Our history is completely different than theirs - we came here by choice and not as slaves. As a community, we have been here for roughly 30 years and we had our first Knesset member more than 12 years ago. In America it took hundreds of years for this level of acceptance to be achieved. I am an optimistic person and I don't think it will take as long for us to reach total acceptance by society. I also think we should not overexaggerate Obama's achievement. Just because he is the president of the US does not mean that the problems of the entire African-American community have magically been solved.

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