NY Federation: Don’t tolerate discrimination

Federation has been involved in calling for the government to help stamp out discrimination against Ethiopian immigrants.

February 9, 2012 01:18
2 minute read.
Protesting against discrimination in Jerusalem

Protesting against discrimination in Jerusalem 390. (photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)


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Despite comments made last week that it is not the role of Diaspora Jewry to intervene in Israel’s internal social affairs, a letter obtained by The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday shows that the New York Federation has been involved in calling for the government to help stamp out discrimination against Ethiopian immigrants.

In a letter to Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver dated January 18, John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York, together with two colleagues, wrote that it was the government’s role to make “clear to the Israeli public that no discrimination or exclusion of any oleh due to race, country of origin or any other factor will be tolerated.”

At the start of the letter, which was copied to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, Ruskay highlighted the assistance US Jews have given to Israel over the years, especially in terms of encouraging aliya.

The letter also reminded the minister that “the promise of Israel from its inception has been to welcome all olim and to provide them with the resources to become productive and respected members of the Jewish community in Israel...”

Ruskay’s letter was sent after several incidents of extreme racism against the 115,000-strong Ethiopian community were revealed, and after appeals by young Ethiopian-Israeli activists for Diaspora Jewry to intervene politically on their behalf. Many Ethiopians believe that racism against them is not only widespread in Israeli society, but is also present in government institutions.

Last week, in an interview with the Post, Ruskay said emphatically it was not the place of the Diaspora to intervene on a political level in Israel’s internal social problems.

“The relationship between American Jewry and Israel is very delicate. Our role is not to lobby the Israeli government but to create and support initiatives that indicate a commitment to a particular issue,” he said in that interview.

Ruskay pointed out: “The difference may be subtle and nuanced, but we are cautious about getting involved in internal issues such as these, just as we would not want the Israeli government to get involved in the internal issues of the organized Jewish community in America.”

In his letter to Landver, however, Ruskay used strong words to emphasize that members of the Diaspora are looking “for a clear voice from Israel on behalf of the global Jewish community, that all members of the Jewish people are welcome in Israel and will be treated as full and equal members of Israeli society, and no other policy will be seen as acceptable by the Jewish state.”

He reiterated on Wednesday there would be no “public effort” by his federation to put pressure on the government, but he admitted he has been in touch with “all our partners and agencies that we fund on a continual basis to share our thoughts on this issue.”

Ruskay said he met as recently as Tuesday morning with a senior Israeli official based in New York and that “we are in touch all the time.”

“We will let the government know that we are following this issue and we will continue to think about it,” he said, emphasizing that the involvement would remain “subtle” and that there are no plans to take the issue any further.

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