Ethiopian group demands further 'affirmative action' in the public sector
IAEJ: Despite sharp rise in number of Ethiopian Israelis completing higher education degrees, gov't is not doing enough.
By RUTH EGLASH
Despite a sharp rise in the number of Ethiopian Israelis completing higher education degrees, the government is not doing enough to inspire an atmosphere of 'affirmative action' within the public sector, according to the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ).
The association, which engages in advocacy and lobbying on behalf of the Ethiopian community, published statistics Wednesday showing the achievements in recent years of the community but also highlighting the educational and employment gaps between Ethiopians and native Israelis.
IAEJ director Danny Admasu called on the government to support implementation of changes to a 1959 affirmative action law to employ more Israelis of Ethiopian descent within the civil service. According to IAEJ spokesman Avi Masfin, the law, which demands employment quotas for Arabs, women and disabled people, was amended a year-and-a-half ago to include Ethiopians, but government ministries have yet to increase efforts to employ more qualified Ethiopians.
"With the private market we can only request that businesses give Ethiopian Israelis a chance at employment," said Masfin. "But with the government we can demand that a policy of affirmative action is adopted within the civil service."
He highlighted that more than 75 percent of highly educated Ethiopians could not find employment in the field for which they were trained and instead take up low-skilled, low-paid work.
"If these Ethiopians, who have been successful in learning, are successful in gaining employment, too, then it will encourage more youngsters to continue with their education," stated Masfin.
Henya Marcovitz, a senior civil service official, responded, however, that since the changes in the law, 150 Ethiopian Israelis had been hired for government jobs.
"If Ethiopians make up 1-2% of the population, there are 1.6% of government workers from that community," she said, adding that the representation was acceptable considering that the Arab population made up 20% of the overall population but have only 5.7% representation within the civil service.
According to IAEJ's statistics, the number of Ethiopians reaching higher education has more than doubled over the past 10 years, with upwards of 15% boasting 13 years of study and 20% reaching 12 years. The association estimated that there were between 2,500-3,000 Ethiopian-Israeli academics.
"These statistics are dramatic considering that 72% of Ethiopian children are raised in poor households," said Masfin. "And more than 70% of these children spent their early, formative years living in caravans, absorption centers and poor neighborhoods."
However, the association's research also noted that there was still a substantial difference in achievements between children from their community and native Israelis in general. The number of Ethiopian Israelis from seventh grade and above dropping out of the education system stands at 4.4%, compared to only 2.6% of native Israeli children. And while 90.5% of Jewish Israelis take their matriculation exams, among Ethiopian Israelis it's 84.39%.
IAEJ presented its findings Wednesday to the Knesset Lobby for Ethiopian Immigrants, headed by MK Yisrael Hasson (Israel Beiteinu) and consisting of 11 MKs from across the political spectrum, which agreed to look further into the reasons why Ethiopian immigrants do not gain the same academic achievements and employment opportunities as native Israelis.
Masfin said that IAEJ would also approach Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with these statistics next month during a Knesset Ministerial committee meeting on aliya and absorption and urge him to push the affirmative action law.
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