Discrimination against the Ethiopian-Israeli community is unfortunately not a
How can the Ethiopian-Israeli community be integrated
into wider Israeli society? The answer lies in increased educational
opportunities, with a national commitment to a real solution: implementing an
empirically proven scholastic assistance program, and pooling myriad resources
and best practices to make that program available to every eligible
Ethiopian-Israeli child nationwide.
Resolving this situation can help
Israel in many ways, not least by adding to the growth of Israel’s
The more Israel invests in a workable solution for the problems
of the community’s children today, the better we can avoid the untold costs of
helping adults and their families in the future.
Not long ago, a school
in Petah Tikvah made headlines for its decision to prevent its Ethiopian-Israeli
students from taking standardized exams, so as not to harm the school’s
The children were given false certificates which did
not reflect their actual performance, preventing them from being accepted to
other learning institutions.
Sadly, this story is not
In pursuit of a just Israeli society, we must ask: how can
such phenomena be stopped, and how can we assure Ethiopian- Israeli children
equal opportunities to those of their peers? In my role as chairman of the
Ethiopian National Project (ENP), I have become a great believer in the promise
of the Ethiopian-Israeli community for affecting positive change in the State of
Israel, its people and economy.
It is critical to understand the roots of
the problem. The first cause is the vast cultural difference between Ethiopia
and Israel. Most Ethiopian Jewish immigrant adults knew only their own complex
agrarian society that lacked even the basic technological underpinnings that we
take for granted in Israel.
Coming here in two major waves of
immigration, they have had little or no formal schooling, and often are unable
to assist their children in understanding Israel’s modern society.
second factor is socio-economic: under-performance in school is perpetuated by
the lack of family resources for supplemental educational assistance, which some
50 percent to 70% of other Israeli schoolchildren obtain at some point during
their high school careers.
A State Comptroller’s report published in May
of this year noted that while the Israeli government, NGOs and private donors
are indeed providing assistance to some students, this aid does not reach all
those who need it. According to the report, only 40% of Ethiopian- Israeli
seventh- through twelfth-graders benefitted from matriculation assistance
programs in 2012. The report also made note of the lack of coordination among
the governmental ministries that have responsibility for this issue. From
imbalanced allocation of funds to unsynchronized lists of participant children,
poor cooperation among the NGOs, donors and governmental ministries charged with
addressing this issue causes serious setbacks.
The recommendations of the
report are clear: bring all Ethiopian-Israeli children in need of such
assistance into in a single, coordinated and unified program – one with proven
success and measured outcomes – and pool the resources to get the job
In this way, we can create a truly equal society in which
Ethiopian-Israeli children are fully integrated, lessening discrimination in
educational institutions and within society at large.
The State of Israel
and Diaspora Jewry have invested considerable resources to this end, but poor
and ineffective coordination of efforts, like inaction itself, will only
perpetuate and even aggravate a national problem that is readily resolvable
within a realistic time frame.
Fortunately, a vehicle for putting into
practice a proven solution already exists: The Ethiopian National Project (ENP).
THE ETHIOPIAN National Project (ENP) was created nine years ago as a partnership
between the government of Israel, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA
), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Israel, the Jewish Agency
for Israel, UIA-Keren Hayesod and Representatives of Ethiopian Jewish
Organizations in Israel.
Unlike other organizations created to promote
the successful integration of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, ENP’s policies
are developed and implemented by members of the Ethiopian-Israeli
This has proven to be a winning strategy, and ENP has managed
to operate a highly successful program that has had undeniably positive
Among recent findings: In 2010, 60% of the students in the
program received matriculation certificates, with the performance among girls at
68%. External quantitative and qualitative evaluations performed by the
Myers-JDCBrookdale Institute show that ENP’s program not only improves the
performance participating students on matriculation exams, it increases
self-confidence and heightens the children’s expectations for a positive
ENP’s current budget is approximately NIS 22 million per annum,
with funds derived from the government of Israel and Jewish Federations through
elective, supplemental giving. The governmental funding, NIS 9 million NIS
annually, is equally divided among the ministries of immigration, education and
finance. ENP is prepared to expand its activities to include younger children,
ages 10 and above.
Accordingly, ENP’s proposed budget will be increased
by an additional $10 million per year to reach all Ethiopian- Israeli children
in this age group.
ENP ’s leadership has sculpted a plan to include
12,000 children in ENP’s programs in the 2014-15 school year.
additional $10 million – $5 million from the government of Israel and $5 million
from North American Jewry – is required to turn the plan into
Throughout their years of managing ENP’s operations, Lee
Kohrman, ENP co-chairman for North America, and Roni Akale, director-general of
the ENP, have accrued considerable expertise in providing social and scholastic
assistance to the community. They are uniquely equipped to assume the role of
managing a nationwide project of this kind.A GOVERNMENTAL decision in 2001
launched the creation of ENP as an equal partnership with Diaspora Jewry. And
now, in light of the recent comptroller’s report, ENP’s documented success, and
recognizing the undesirable outcome of an improperly coordinated effort, we
stand at a crossroads.
We can take the steps needed to ensure a fully
integrated, successful Ethiopian-Israeli population, or we can allow the problem
to continue, with no real solution in sight.
Last year, ENP provided
scholastic and social assistance to 4,300 Ethiopian-Israeli students in 24
communities throughout Israel, from Beit Shean in the north to Beersheba and
Arad in the south. In addition, ENP conducts a program for outstanding achievers
that prepares them for a joint university-army program, and a vocational
technological program for lower-performing students.
operates 20 after-school Youth Outreach Centers throughout Israel that provide
leadership training and increase participants’ self-confidence, knowledge and
Children’s scholastic performance plays a major role in
their future as contributing members of society.
Through ENP’s work, the
challenges the community faces can be addressed and overcome. Ethiopian-Israeli
Jewry will then take its rightful place in Israeli society, just as immigrant
communities from other lands have made their way into fully active players in
the complex, multi-colored tapestry of Israel.
The author is co-chairman
of the Ethiopian National Project.