RELIGIOUS LEADERS of the Israeli Ethiopian community take part in a ceremony marking the Ethiopian holiday of Sigd in Jerusalem in November..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement strongly opposes Israel’s policy and the leaders of the movement present several reasons for their actions. One main reason is that Israel’s regime is an “apartheid” regime.
This claim is false, not only legally but also substantially, as I have experienced as an Ethiopian-Israeli citizen.
During 1984’s Operation Moses, my parents made aliya to Israel and started their lives here with the difficulties that every immigrant goes through, but with an extra challenge. Israeli society’s first encounter with a large black-African population was marked by prejudice and even racism. However, the main reasons for this prejudice were a cultural gap and the unpreparedness of the state to absorb this large population.
I experienced the cultural gap for the first time when my mother came to my school’s parent-teacher conference. The teacher was not aware that my mother could not read or write Hebrew. When my teacher showed my mother the report card I explained this to the teacher. That led to an absurd situation in which I and not my teacher had to explain my report card to my mother. This continued until junior high. I felt that these situations caused teachers to doubt my parents’ ability to educate me. This is just one example of the cultural gap that Ethiopian olim and other Israeli citizens had to overcome.
I have witnessed the unpreparedness of the state to absorb my parents through their occupational struggles. The state did not provide occupational assistance for my parents. My mother was an artisan and my father was a farmer, yet the government placed them in the peripheral cities, where they could not practice their professions. This led them to work in unskilled labor, namely cleaning. As a result, I observed their neighbors, employers and coworkers perceiving them as unable to work in occupations other than unskilled labor.
However, since the ‘90s the State of Israel has redressed its mistakes in the absorption process. Over my lifetime the government formed committees to deal with the issues of Ethiopian integration. There are several examples of how the implementation of the committees’ policies improved my life and the lives of my family and friends.
The state has initiated affirmative action programs for higher education scholarships for Ethiopians, and my friends and I are using them. I am a student at IDC Herzliya, a prestigious institute, where I could not have afforded to study without this scholarship program.
As a result of the committees’ recommendations, the army began taking into account the integration process in its drafting procedures. In the past, the drafting procedure emphasized the social status of a candidate, regardless of his skill set. On the day I got drafted an officer offered me the option of serving in an infantry battalion even though I was already assigned to a field intelligence unit, just because people of my status usually served in infantry units. But now the army has modified its sorting process to consider merit more equally to status. My little brothers will benefit from this.
These are just two examples of how the government tries to improve the integration of the Ethiopian population. This shows one way that the state’s policy is actually the opposite of apartheid. The efforts of the state to integrate the Ethiopian population, in order to have equal rights and opportunities for all citizens, are the best answer to claims made by boycott activists.The author is a computer science student at IDC Herzliya.