A new dawn for Israelis of Ethiopian origin... or is it?

There are several examples that illustrate why we cannot justify the ministry’s new intervention program.

March 22, 2014 22:37
3 minute read.
Ethiopians celebrate Sig'd in Jerusalem, 2013.

Ethiopian ethiopia sigd holiday 390. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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According to the Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, it’s a new dawn for Israelis of Ethiopian origin.

A new intervention program is kicking in, one which will finally enable them to integrate into Israeli society. This program is to consist of 12 government ministries and will be orchestrated by the Absorption Ministry in full cooperation with the community itself.

A seemingly logical reaction is that this is wonderful news; governmental assistance is to be provided to our black brothers and sisters in every area in which they face difficulty. A true manifestation of “am yisrael chai.”

This particular thought has been expressed by people who do not fully understand the greater picture, or realize why this new program is considered by us, the Ethiopian community in Israel, to be one more in a long history of failed programs.

Forever olim

The conception that the social issues of Israeli citizens of Ethiopian origin must be managed solely and categorically by the Absorption Ministry and its representatives in other ministries – and not by the relevant ministries, like for other citizens – is utterly wrong. 70 percent of the Israeli Ethiopian community was born here or came to Israel 15 to 30 years ago. It does not make sense to forever keep them under the management of the Absorption Ministry. Nonetheless, that is exactly what the new program proposed by Landver and celebrated as a “new dawn” will do.

The only aspect of the new policy concerned citizens can understand is that Ethiopian Israelis are different, with unique problems – to the point that other ministries do not deal with Israelis of Ethiopian origin, as if we were not citizens. For example, all pupils of Ethiopian origin fall under the auspices of the olim wing of the Education Ministry, even though two-thirds of them were born in Israel. Is there any rational reason for this?

Failure after failure

The failures of the Israeli government regarding Ethiopian integration are known to all.

Ethiopian Israelis maintain a level of employment that matches (and even exceeds) the general Jewish population, but their household earnings are over 40 percent less than other Israeli households, because a large proportion of them work as unskilled and contracted laborers. In terms of education, the data reveals distressing and growing gaps between Ethiopian Israeli pupils and the general Jewish population.

There are many issues that must be addressed by the government. For those who have forgotten: in 2008, a national program was established by the government to improve the situation of Ethiopian Jews, however, this national program was poorly managed by the same ministry that is about to embark on a new one.

Israel’s state comptroller, Prof. Yosef Shapira, wrote an official report about the 2008 national program, and his conclusion was that the Prime Minister’s Office did not convey clear instructions to the Absorption Ministry as to how to manage a program that required the collaboration of seven additional ministries. This led to a well-known outcome: another failure.

Now, every concerned citizen must ask herself or himself, what lessons, if any, were learned by the ministry that will assure us that things are going to be different this time? For us, Israelis of Ethiopian origin, the new program is one more attempt by the ministry to tighten its grip on all of us. That’s one of the many strategies the ministry uses to enhance its presence in our life and keep us forever olim.

Collecting more and more money for the poor and challenged Ethiopians; creating more and more special projects on our behalf; establishing 22 permanent absorption centers to enhance the argument that Ethiopians are different and therefore require unique care.

These are just several examples that illustrate why we cannot justify the ministry’s new intervention program.

There is no doubt that we need to develop a new national approach, an honest one with maximum collaboration between ministries, and with complete awareness of our needs. Such a national program should be managed and handled only by the Prime Minster’s Office.

Dear Sofa Landver, if you truly want to “let” us integrate, just cut the umbilical cord.

The author is a spokesperson of Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews.

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