Ethiopian - Israeli protest against racism, police brutality in Tel Aviv..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Knesset narrowly rejected proposals to form a parliamentary commission of inquiry into claims of discrimination, racism and violence against Israelis of Ethiopian descent Wednesday.
The two proposals – by MKs Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) and Dov Henin (Joint List) – were voted down 46-48 and 44-48, respectively.
The coalition was able to win the first vote by relying on an opposition MK, Sharon Gal of Yisrael Beytenu, who as a rule does not support initiatives by the Left.
Livni, a former immigration and absorption minister, said the coalition’s vote against the inquiry is shameful, and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only wants photo-ops but not action.
“Whoever votes against this is a partner in discrimination,” she said. “The time has come for Israelis of Ethiopian descent to stop being ignored citizens.
The commission is not against the government, but for Ethiopian Israelis. It is meant to find solutions more than it is meant to lay blame.”
Henin said that Israelis of Ethiopian descent must be heard in the Knesset, and a commission of inquiry is the best way to invite the public, experts, ministers, bureaucrats and police officers to give a complete picture.
“Our goal is to give these people hope that someone is listening to them,” he added.
Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin mocked Livni for leading the fight for Ethiopian Israelis, pointing out that she was not clamoring to be a member of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee at any time when she was an MK and not a minister.
“It’s hard for me to accept these words from Livni, who was a member of almost every government in the last decade.
To hear such complaints from the former absorption minister, housing minister and justice minister only now? Year after year you had jobs with direct responsibility [for the issue], and what did you do?” he asked.
“For the first time, there is a representative of Ethiopian immigrants at the head of the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee [MK Abraham Naguise (Likud)], and in your party there is no room for one,” Elkin added.
Sources in the Zionist Union thought it was hypocritical of Livni to advance the Ethiopian issue, because she had an opportunity to include her loyalist former MK Shlomo Molla on the Zionist Union list but chose former Meretz member Eyal Ben-Reuven instead.
Elkin also criticized Henin, saying: “I’m not sure the opinions of Dov Henin’s party members are so positive when it comes to the aliya from Ethiopia, because we know what they think of the Law of Return.
The Joint List are the last ones who can defend an IDF soldier of Ethiopian descent, because they would rather see him in Ethiopia.”
The immigration and absorption minister pointed out that there is already a State Comptroller’s Report on the absorption of immigrants from Ethiopia and said his ministry is working on a process to implement parts of it.
According to Elkin, the proposal to form a commission of inquiry is an attempt “to take a national issue and turn it into cheap politics.”
Naguise tried to avoid the vote, but because it was so close, he had to enter the plenum and vote with the coalition.
Soon after, he wrote on Twitter: “The initiators of the proposal to form a parliamentary committee of inquiry do not understand that members of the Ethiopian community are sick of their distress [being used] as a political tool. Now the former absorption minister [Livni] remembered to be concerned about the community?”
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.