(photo credit: COURTESY IBA)
Moshe Kahlon has enlisted Tsega Melaku, an Ethiopian-Israeli woman who managed the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Reshet Alef, to his Koolanu party.
At a Tel Aviv press conference on Sunday, Kahlon praised Melaku as a doer, a quality he said was central to his party.
“Only with people like this can we bring change, and this change will not be an easy one.
People who do not shy away from battles, who do not look for excuses, people that simply get up and do,” he said, calling her a woman of fortitude and strong will.
Melaku, who managed Reshet Alef for three years before becoming an editor at Reka, Israel Radio’s foreign-language channel, left her family in Ethiopia at the age of 16 to come to Israel.
Her first battle here, she said, was over the right to keep her first name instead of the Hebraicized “Oshra,” which she was given upon arrival. She was also an activist in the protests against Magen David Adom’s stance on Ethiopian blood donations, a policy that led to several scandals in which blood was thrown away out of fears it might be tainted by HIV.
“Until today, everywhere I go, one question follows me: ‘Miss, I need my house cleaned twice a week.
Are you free for cleaning?,’” Melaku said. “Today, I say, ‘Yes, I’m free to clean up. Not houses, but corruption.
I’m ready to clean up opacity, to clean up seeing others as inferior because of their name, their accent, their skin color.”
Israel’s 120,000-strong Ethiopian population, which tends not to vote as a bloc, faces serious economic challenges. A 2012 study found that Ethiopian immigrants were the worst-paid population in Israel, earning 30-40 percent less than Israeli Arabs. Without mentioning those challenges specifically, Melaku spoke Sunday on the importance of education.
“Today, children have no economic strength. Their parents work hard and the kids come back to live at home at age 30. We must change this,” she said, touching on her own experience as a single mother of two and adding that children required equal opportunity in education if they were to get ahead.
Melaku will reportedly take the number three slot in the party, after Kahlon and Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant, the former head of the IDF’s Southern command. Her high slot on the list could make her a contender to become Israel’s first Ethiopian-born minister.
She would not, however, be the first Ethiopian woman in the Knesset.
MK Penina Tamnu-Shata (Yesh Atid) took that honor in the last election. Another Ethiopian-born lawmaker, Shimon Solomon, is also serving with Yesh Atid in the outgoing Knesset.
Yesh Atid has not finalized its list for the upcoming election, but given the party’s drop in polls from 19 seats to around 10, its Ethiopian MKs might not make it back. In the 2013 list, Tamnu-Shata and Solomon held the 14th and 12th slots, respectively. Since 1996, two other Ethiopian-Israelis have served as MKs: Kadima’s Shlomo Molla (who also served as deputy speaker) and Adisu Massala, of Labor and One Nation.
Other than Melaku and Galant, Kahlon has enlisted former ambassador to the US Michael Oren for his diplomatic standing; Eli Alalouf for his anti-poverty platform; education expert Yifat Sassa- Biton; and family rights activist Rachel Azaria.
The advent of Melaku will bring the six-person list to gender parity, which Koolanu previously stated as a goal.