I have always harbored pronounced antipathy toward those who judge people based
on the color of their skin or geographical origin. I never found it any
different than anti-Semites who judge me based on my religion.
hateful and shameful practice, rooted in ignorance, fear and false
That said, my disgust at the ongoing discrimination against
Israel’s already severely traumatized Ethiopian-Jewish community is beyond
Indeed, I frequently ask myself how it is possible that as Jews
– perhaps the most discriminated-against race in the history of the world – we
see fit to alienate our own brothers and sisters, with shared experiences, as
though they were children of a lesser God.
It’s the epitome of chutzpah,
and a disturbing blemish on an otherwise incandescent example of democracy in a
region darkened by inhumane autocracies and theocracies.
came here under strikingly similar circumstances to those faced by the myriad of
Holocaust survivors who sought refuge in Zionism – my family
The first mass exodus of Ethiopian Jews came in the 1980s and
’90s during the Marxist- Leninist dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam, who
murdered thousands of African Jews, separated families, displaced survivors,
orphaned children and forbade all from practicing Judaism.
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Mariam’s oppression, compounded by unparalleled famine, the
highest infant mortality rate in the world and the constant threat of war,
resulted in an untenable existence for Ethiopia’s tens of thousands of
Thus, under the auspices of the Israeli government (with some aid
from the US government’s CIA), rescue missions known as Operation Moses, Joshua
and Solomon saved over 21,000 Ethiopian-Jewish lives by bringing them to
Today, over 120,000 Ethiopian Jews live in
However, their story does not have a happy ending.
THOUGH Ethiopian Jews were legally absorbed, serve honorably in the military,
attend university, have earned important political posts and contribute to the
workforce, they have been treated with unconscionable disrespect.
assimilation into Israeli society has been marred by an ugly cacophony of
institutionalized racism, manifested in a number of disturbing ways among their
“more equal” white-skinned counterparts.
This, of course, doesn’t take
into account the severe emotional trauma they faced during their exodus from a
THE MOST recent, and perhaps most egregious, indignity
against Jews of Ethiopian descent was sparked last month following a national
television exposé depicting how a young Ethiopian family attempting to buy an
apartment in the town of Kiryat Malachi was turned away.
investigation determined that the white tenants of the building concerned
collectively signed an agreement not to rent or sell their properties to members
of the Ethiopian community.
It was a disturbing story that rightly
outraged a large segment of Israeli society and resulted in two mass marches in
front of the Knesset in January, which were attended by thousands of Ethiopians
and other men and women of conscience.
During the highly publicized
peaceful protests, many held placards of quotes from the great Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr., in a scene eerily reminiscent of King’s 1963 March on
“Our goal is to raise awareness and send the message to the
government of Israel to wake up and take notice that there are black Jews in
Israel and that it is also our country,” Gadi Yevarkan, director of the Center
for Social Equality for the Ethiopian Jews, and one of the protest’s organizers,
told The Jerusalem Post
at the time.
Many of the community’s young
leaders who attended the protests reported segregation in the educational system
and professional sectors and racist attitudes toward Ethiopian immigrants within
mainstream Israeli society.
“We are protesting because we are Jews and we
remember that the last time we were not allowed to rent apartments was when we
lived in Ethiopia,” said another protester. “We want to share the message that,
as Jews, we have all suffered because of our religion and there is no reason for
us not to feel at home in Israel,” he said.
Again, sound familiar?
empirical level, I see Ethiopian-Israelis every day and it is evident that they
keep among themselves, with far too few exceptions.
When I recently asked
a 20-something Ethiopian-Israeli colleague, who was born in Israel, what
adjectives came to mind when she contemplated Ethiopian Jews’ treatment in
Israeli society, she used words like “racism,” “cruelty” and
Furthermore, this exceedingly intelligent young woman, who
served honorably in the IDF, went on to cite her memories as a child of blood
drives during which Ethiopian blood donated was discarded into trash
“I thought to myself: ‘Why doesn’t anyone want my blood?’ Even as a
kid I knew it didn’t make sense to throw away blood.”
ON A clinical
level, it has been determined by psychiatrists in this country that a
disproportionate number of Ethiopian immigrants suffer from severe psychological
trauma, reminiscent of concentration-camp survivors.
Indeed, Prof. Zahava
Solomon, a Tel Aviv University expert in psychiatric epidemiology and social
work, examined 600 Ethiopian Jewish adults and found that 28 percent of them
suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
To put this in
perspective, the average level of PTSD in the general Israeli public – which
collectively has gone through wars, terrorism and other traumatic events – is
Prof. Danny Brom, director of the Israel Center for the Treatment of
Psychotrauma at Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem, has worked diligently with members
of the Ethiopian community in workshops to address and allay their
“The workshops are run the same way groups of Holocaust
survivors have discussed their traumatic experiences,” he said. “The discovery
that they are not the only ones to have suffered from traumatic events eases
Meanwhile, just two weeks ago it was reported that a lack of
funding, coupled with friction between the Jewish Agency and the Immigrant
Absorption Ministry, has resulted in severely curbed funding for a highly
effective domestic violence program geared toward Ethiopian
“The establishment should have learned from mistakes in
absorbing previous immigrant communities,” said Brom.
THESE MEN, women
and children deserve dignity, respect and compassion.
They came here
under similar circumstances to the majority of their fellow white Jews who have,
comparatively, been exponentially embraced.
Why is that? Is it because of
the color of their skin?
Ultimately, a true democracy is judged based on how it
treats its most vulnerable population.
This being the case, we must ask
ourselves: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
If the answer is no, then we should
reassess our collective history.
And what it means to be a
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