(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
Ethiopian immigrant groups painted a grim picture of racism by public figures against new immigrants at the Knesset's Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee Tuesday, calling for legislation to punish public figures involved in discrimination.
"When the mayor of a city says he does not want Ethiopians living in his town, he puts a stigma on the whole community," said Avraham Neguise, director of South Wing to Zion, an advocacy group for Ethiopian immigrants' rights. "These public figures need to be held accountable, especially if their actions break the law."
Neguise's words were backed up by other representatives of the Ethiopian and Russian immigrant communities who presented the committee's chairman, MK Michael Nudelman, with numerous examples of local authorities promoting racist attitudes, including public announcements by mayors to halt Ethiopian migration into their cities.
Danny Admasu, director of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ), kicked off the meeting by calling on the heads of local authorities to rally around new immigrants in their areas and put pressure on the government to increase budgets for helping them rather than announcing in a public forum that they did not want anymore Ethiopian immigrants moving in. He also addressed the issue of limited mortgage grants to Ethiopian immigrants, which only allow them to purchase property in low socioeconomic neighborhoods.
"There is no shortage of examples of racism against Ethiopian immigrants," Admasu told the committee, adding that "we need stricter punishment for officials who use such slurs."
Michael Ginker, director of immigration and aliya for the Union of Local Authorities, responded that there was no room for racism within the local authorities. However, he said that the problem was caused by the economic hardships faced by local authorities in general.
The meeting turned stormy when former mayor of Or Yehuda Yitzhak Bukobza took the floor. Bukobza made headlines in 2005 for refusing to allow 50 Ethiopian immigrant children to enroll in local schools. At the meeting, Bukobza denied that he was a racist and instead highlighted the problems faced by certain local authorities in absorbing large numbers of new immigrants, many of whom are in need of extra educational and social welfare services.
Admasu said he recognized the difficulties, but emphasized Bukobza's words at the time of the initial incident when he said: "We do not want Ethiopians here."
"When the mayor of a city says such things, then others, such as teachers and kindergarten teachers, feel they also have a right to say the same," pointed out Admasu.