Reuven Rivlin: Israel ready to act on racism against Ethiopians

“Israeli society is flexible, capable of change and open to amendment.”

September 15, 2016 05:27
3 minute read.
Israelis of Ethiopian descent take part in a protest in Jerusalem calling on gov't to bring the rema

Israelis of Ethiopian descent take part in a protest in Jerusalem calling on gov't to bring the remaining members of their community living in Ethiopia, known as Falash Mura to settle in Israel, March 20, 2016. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

President Reuven Rivlin expressed the hope that the country is ready to turn the corner on racism after he received an interministerial report on Wednesday with recommendations on how to eradicate racism against Ethiopian Israelis.

“We must believe that change is possible,” he said. “Israeli society is flexible, capable of change and open to amendment.”

Justice Ministry director-general Ami Palmor presented the report – a government-initiated investigation into allegations of racism toward Israel’s Ethiopian community – to the president at his official residence. The report found not only racial discrimination on the part of individuals but also institutional racism.

A 20-member committee, which in addition to representatives from government ministries includes social activists and a representative of academia, compiled the report and came up with 53 recommendations to be carried out on a NIS 20 million budget.

“If only half are implemented, we will have a different society,” Palmor said.

Social activists from the Ethiopian community said they had never imagined that after so many years of living in Israel they would still be mounting protest demonstrations against the racism to which Ethiopians separately and together are subjected.

Rivlin said every few years there is a heightened awareness of this painful problem and of the mistakes that have been made in absorbing Ethiopian immigrants into society.

“We’ve all witnessed uncomfortable protest demonstrations against discrimination in schools, in the workplace, in the army, pubs and bars that refuse to admit Ethiopians and health services that refuse to accept Ethiopian blood donations,” he said.

The report paints a very clear but dismal picture of the discriminatory practices against Israelis of Ethiopian background, Rivlin said, noting that he had previously expressed his views on the errors made in absorbing Ethiopian immigrants.

Nonetheless, Rivlin regards the report as a sign of hope for the future that something good would come of it.

He said the Ethiopian community has a ratio of recruitment into the Israel Defense Forces far higher than any other sector of the population.

He expressed hope that there will be a similar rate of recruitment into the police force and into public life, as well as into the business world.

“This is a Zionist community, one that dreamed of Zion and whose members have been prisoners of Zion,” Rivlin said. “Their arrival in this country was like an infusion of Zionism into Israeli society and to the State of Israel.”

Following this period of introspection in which Israel must acknowledge the element of racism, Rivlin said the time has come to encourage the Ethiopian community and bring out its potential and its resources. He said he is convinced this could only be to the benefit of society as a whole.

Among the report’s recommendations are the establishment of a unit within the Justice Ministry to coordinate the fight against racism, the appointment of an “officer against discrimination and racism” for every government ministry and expanding the use of police body cameras in areas with a large Ethiopian-Israeli population.

Controversy arose after the police rejected more than a dozen recommendations on August 1 on how to eradicate racism against Ethiopian Israelis.

The police said they had already implemented these recommendations of their own accord.

At an interministerial meeting in early August chaired by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, nine out of 12 recommendations regarding the police were adopted, and the other three were to be discussed in coordination with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Attorney-General’s Office, the Finance Ministry and the Public Security Ministry.

The three recommendations deal with Taser usage, recording the interrogations of minors and disciplinary measures against police officers who act in a discriminatory or racist manner.

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