Immigrant study: Ethiopians fare worst, but most optimistic

Most olim consider themselves Jewish rather than Israeli.

Ethiopian immigrants have the most difficulty integrating into society, but they express the most optimism and satisfaction, according to the preliminary findings of a study released this week by the Institute for Immigration and Social Integration at the Rupin Academic Center in Emek Hefer. "With the Ethiopians, we think there's a cultural tendency to answer [survey questions] positively. These are valid findings, but they measure subjective responses," Dr. Aviva Zeltzer-Zubida, one of the study's researchers from the Institute, told The Jerusalem Post. The researchers analyzed data from Central Bureau of Statistics "social surveys" conducted in 2003 to 2005 and a poll carried out by the Institute for Immigration and Social Integration this year. They sought to set measurable criteria for determining the level of integration of olim groups in Israeli society. For the 2007 "Rupin Survey," 500 immigrants from the FSU, 394 from Ethiopia and 359 from Western Europe and the US were asked about their Israeli identity, their sense of belonging in the country and their perceived level of success in integrating into society. The researchers also questioned 1,000 Israelis who made up a representative sample of society. Asked if they feel "Israeli, Jewish or belonging to your former country," a large majority of all three immigrant groups reported feeling "Jewish" rather than "Israeli." Among Western immigrants, this figure reached 64%, followed by Ethiopians at 56% and olim from the FSU at 42%. In contrast, only 15%, 16% and 24% respectively said they felt "Israeli." Notably, a third of FSU olim reported themselves as neither "Jewish" nor "Israeli." Perhaps the most surprising sentiments were expressed in the survey by Ethiopian immigrants. According to the CBS figures, Ethiopian olim are lonelier than other Israelis, the only group among whom a majority reported feeling lonely. While all other groups reported loneliness by a factor hovering around 45%, Ethiopians reported a figure some 10 points higher. Their quality of life was also lower than all other groups. Averaging a monthly income of NIS 1,407 per capita during the measured years of the CBS studies, Ethiopians came behind even Israeli Arabs, who, with almost none of their women working, earned NIS 1,478 per capita. By contrast, FSU immigrants averaged NIS 2,635 (with Europeans making more than Asians), Sephardi Israelis NIS 3,026, and Ashkenazi Israelis reaching the highest figure in the study, NIS 4,371. This figure does not refer to the average salary, but rather to the average income spread across the members of the household. So large families will drive the number down. Yet, despite these pressures, and significantly higher rates of unemployment, Ethiopian immigrants reported in the CBS studies both satisfaction with their aliya and optimism about the future. They tied Sephardi Israelis for second-place in satisfaction (about 85% reported they were satisfied), coming after Ashkenazim by a factor of just 5%. In optimism, meanwhile, with over 50% saying they are optimistic, they came behind only the mostly-Western group of "other olim." This trend continued in the 2007 Rupin Survey, with Ethiopians by a great majority expressing happiness about their aliya. Asked if they feel "at home" in Israel, 83 percent of those from Ethiopia, 68% of olim from Western countries and 57% of FSU olim said they felt so "to a great extent" or "to a very great extent. Ethiopian immigrants overwhelmingly desire to live in a Jewish state while at the same time preserving their "original culture," also according to the Rupin survey. Asked to name their reason for making aliya, 75% of Ethiopians (compared to 53% of Westerners and just 13% of FSU olim) said it was "to live as Jews in a Jewish state." At the same time, 78% of Ethiopians (compared to 38% of Westerners and 47% of FSU olim) said that it was "important" or "very important" to preserve the culture of the country of origin. In the Central Bureau of Statistics studies, immigrants who came during the 1980s and earlier reported the lowest levels of optimism about the future, coming in at more than 10 percentage points lower than any other group in the surveys, which all had 45%-50% of respondents expressing optimism about the future. This, said Zeltzer-Zubida, pointed to the long-term nature of the integration issue. It indicates a general feeling of optimism among all the groups except the veteran olim. "This might be Zionism," says Zeltzer-Zubida. "I don't know if I'd call it that, but it's the statement that 'even if the situation is bad, this is our home and you stick it out.' This is true even when, by objective parameters, these groups don't have such a good reason to stay." The research is being released to coincide with a conference at the Rupin Academic Center on Thursday on how to better integrate olim into Israeli society.