Sigd festivities, Jerusalem_311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Minority groups must unite against the government’s draconian measures and
promote social justice for all, the only lawmaker of Ethiopian descent said on
Speaking on the eve of the Ethiopian Jewish festival Sigd,
which is to be marked on Thursday at a central event on Jerusalem’s Haas
Promenade, MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) said recent government “attacks” on the
judiciary, media and especially NGOs could have a significant impact on the
country’s minority populations.
“Communities such as Ethiopian immigrants
and the Arab sector, who are usually weaker economically, rely greatly on
services provided by NGOs, and the government has already tried to curb their
donations,” said Molla, who at the start of this Knesset session was elected
deputy speaker, the first Ethiopian-born person to hold this position. Molla is
only the second Ethiopian- Israeli to serve in the Knesset since the community
started arriving here more than 30 years ago.
He also said certain
legislation, such as amendments to the Defamation Law, which passed a first
reading Monday, is dangerously damaging to “Israel’s democracy” and bad for
society in general.
“I’m not immune to being attacked by the Israeli
media but I would rather see bad stories printed about me than no stories at
all,” said Molla, highlighting another recent bill that seek to change
procedures of appointing Supreme Court justices.
“The media and judiciary
have to be free and independent. That is a central facet of a democracy,”
he said. “In the end we will become like Iran or Syria or any other
Molla, who first joined the Knesset four years ago, said
it is these social issues that drive him, and he is constantly striving to
combine them with the work he does to help his own community.
be treated the same as everyone else,” said Molla. “I mean, how long can I be
considered a new immigrant? I have been here for 27 years.
“I do not
believe in government programs that single out the Ethiopian community for
special treatment. Such programs are useful for new immigrants but not good for
the veterans, who should be working harder at blending in.
“It’s not that
I don’t want to deal with Ethiopian issues. I do deal with them very
often but it’s also important for Ethiopians to break out of the community,”
said Molla. “There are 119 other MKs who can also be working to help the
Molla, who vocally supported this summer’s mass
social protests, said “The social issues raised in this summer are a shared
battle by all of Israeli society, including the Ethiopian community, and we
should be dealing with them all together.”
Despite his attempts to use a
social platform to unite the country’s minorities, Molla said he is happy to see
that there has been progress in recognizing the festival of Sigd as a national
“There has been progress on that,” said Molla, referring to a
law passed two years ago that turned the festival into a recognized holiday in
the national calendar. Employees of Ethiopian heritage are entitled to take the
day off and some schools are learning about the holiday as part of their
Sigd is a religious festival for Ethiopian Jews. Taking place
50 days after Yom Kippur, 29 Heshvan, spiritual leaders, known as kesim, lead
the people in a series of prayers in the Ethiopian Jewish language of Gez,
calling for a Jewish return to Jerusalem and individuals are urged to repent for
any wrongdoings in the past year.