Summer camp for Ethiopian kids 521.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
More than three decades of attempts at integration into Israeli society have now
gone by. Although there have been some meaningful individual accomplishments,
the Ethiopian Israeli community as a whole remains at the lowest socio-economic
level of Jewish Israeli society. In recent years, a new generation has come of
age, urgently seeking solutions and painfully aware that it is up to us to bring
about a positive change.
Immersed in our parents’ dazzling determination
to return to Zion – the main reason for our being here – we cannot reconcile
with the dangerous prospect of descending into a world of poverty,
marginalization and discrimination against a black Jewish minority in a white
society. A society filled with prejudice, labels, stereotypes and expressions of
racism toward Ethiopian Israelis, whether these stem from ignorance or systemic
The State Comptroller’s Report (May 2013) confirms
what we have always suspected – the lack of a true desire among those dealing
with absorption to champion proper integration of the Ethiopian Israeli
community into Israeli society. Three decades of profuse programs with
substantial funding, mainly from the US, without much coordination, clear
objectives or focus on output, have resulted in an outrageous waste of
resources. Moreover, they have generated a dependent and marginal community
whose capabilities have been undermined, intensifying a negative social image
combined with racist attitudes toward Ethiopian Israelis.
As young social
activists from the community, we are seriously troubled. When we are able to
lift our heads above our daily concerns and attempt to look toward the horizon,
our hopes for a change in the status quo and a better future seem
It is difficult to raise children in an atmosphere in which
there are segregated kindergartens intended only for Ethiopians, schools that
are unwilling to accept Ethiopian Israeli students and if so in separate
classes, a special, all-inclusive classifying track for army recruits, distinct
academic preparatory programs, exclusion and discrimination in employment,
scandalous court rulings and repeated media exposure of racist expressions based
on skin color.
Our worries are not only for our children, born and raised
in this reality, not only for the improvement of the community’s low
socio-economic position and poor image. We are also concerned for an Israeli
society which does not see where the perpetuation of the status quo is leading,
and for the Jewish people for whom discrimination, exclusion and racism are part
of our historical experience, and who therefore are well aware of the
consequences of knowing and remaining silent.
We are not requesting the
creation of more programs designed specifically for Ethiopian Israelis. We are
issuing a clarion call for a reality in which such programs are no longer
In order to accomplish this change, three strategic elements
are required for an “Exit Plan” that will instill the hope that we are truly at
home, in an environment in which the barriers have been removed and where we are
truly respected and can flourish: 1. An Exit Plan from the lowest socio-economic
levels of society – this can be accelerated by establishing an economic
development authority in the Prime Minister’s Office which will act as a
coordinating and integrating body, one that will think and follow up in relation
to government activity for the economic advancement of Ethiopian
This was promised after the housing/racism demonstrations in
2011 but was dropped by the Prime Minister’s Office after the demonstrators and
tent cities dispersed.
2. An Exit Plan from the poor neighborhoods – a
program which will assist the integration of Ethiopian Israelis in various towns
and cities across Israel and result in a direct connection between Israeli
society and the community, allowing us to live together
Preliminary discussions on the topic were held with the Prime
Minister’s Office, but these have unfortunately not continued.
3. An Exit
Plan from special programs for Ethiopian Israelis. Programs should be based on
need, not on race.
Rather than offer programs to Ethiopian Israelis
because they are Ethiopian Israelis, program criteria should be based on
academic, economic or sociological need, with special attention to integration
into Israeli society for all groups.
These fundamental actions will
succeed only if the prism through which Ethiopian Israelis are seen by the
senior civil service and those dealing with absorption changes, through an
internalization and understanding of the consequences of sustaining the status
The writer is a representative of the Ethiopian Israeli Activists