(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Punishments currently handed out to violent men are a joke, and the judicial system must get tougher with Ethiopian men found guilty of violence against their partners, Immigrant Absorption Minister Ya'acov Edri said on Wednesday.
Edri was speaking at a joint session of the Knesset committees on the Status of Women and Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs focusing on the rise in domestic abuse within the Ethiopian community in recent years. The meeting was a follow-up to an earlier session held in June to discuss what MK Gideon Sa'ar (Likud), chairman of the Committee on the Status of the Women, labeled a "crisis situation."
Since the June meeting, three more Ethiopian women have been murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.
"It is exceptional that a man can hit his wife and just get away with it, without being properly punished," said Edri, highlighting that sentences handed out by the courts to violent men could be as short as two months.
"It's a joke," he said, adding, "I am not just talking about jail time, but also about ongoing treatments so that these men do not come home and continue to be violent."
Edri argued that there "need to be more social workers and a comprehensive program to holistically treat the whole family."
Shulamit Sahalo, from the Yachdav (Together) Coalition for the Prevention of Domestic Violence in the Ethiopian Community, told The Jerusalem Post that the main problem was with first-time offenders, who are given relatively short prison sentences and then returned immediately to their families without any rehabilitation treatment.
"They do not go through any specific process and receive no treatment," said Sahalo, who presented the Knesset committees with a range of ideas and statistics regarding the growing violence in the Ethiopian community. "There is not even a halfway house or hostel where the men can get help before they return to their partners."
In his opening remarks, Sa'ar pointed to the dramatic increase in the number of murders and violent incidents against women in the Ethiopian community.
"There has been a breakdown of the absorption process, and we are now in an emergency situation," he said, promising to continue the discussion in follow-up meetings.
The session was also attended by Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, who acknowledged the difficulties of integrating these new immigrants from the Third World.
"We are doing many things," stated Herzog, outlining a range of programs, including the new Bar-Ilan University program to train Israeli social workers to work within the community's cultural boundaries. So far, 10 social workers have begun to work with the community.
However, according to Dr. Negist Mengashe, director of the Ethiopian National Project, non-governmental sources are currently funding the social workers' training, and that budget will dry up in less than two years.
"I don't know what will happen afterwards," she told the committees.
MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), however, said that such programs were a "drop in the bucket," and she called on the government to formulate a national plan to ease the absorption process for Ethiopian immigrants.
"This country has failed in the absorption of Ethiopian Jews," she charged. "We can't sit here and talk about all the programs out there without talking about the rise in violence, murders and suicides."
Herzog responded that a comprehensive government program had been developed earlier this year but was still awaiting final approval.
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