Key Ethiopian advocacy group in danger

Overseas funding collapses just as worldwide recession worsens the community's plight.

admasu 224.88 (photo credit: Avi Masfin)
admasu 224.88
(photo credit: Avi Masfin)
Israel's premier advocacy group for the Ethiopian immigrant community here is in danger of shutting down, after funding from donors abroad has dropped by more than half, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews, which lobbies the Knesset and individual parliamentarians on a wide range of educational, social welfare and other issues affecting the 110,000-strong community, is considering serious cutbacks to its activities and reducing staffers if donations, mainly from the US, continue to wane. "If things do not improve, then we might have to close our doors completely," lamented IAEJ's director Danny Admasu on Thursday. The organization was hoping to secure some $670,000 in funding for the current year, after reaching a record $520,000 in 2008, but so far has only managed to raise $310,000, significantly less than its average annual base budget. "It's possible that even some of that funding will not arrive," said Admasu. "Our main problem is that we cannot accept funding from the government [which earlier this month approved a plan to provide emergency funding to struggling NGOs]. We have to remain independent and cannot be tied to the establishment. That would seriously impede our work." "Many donors do not understand how important the IAEJ's work is in safeguarding the [government and non-government] resources allocated to the Ethiopian community and most prefer to fund projects for children at risk or after-school programs," commented Micha Odenheimer, IAEJ's founding director and now a member of the association's board of directors. "We are the only organization that monitors the government's policies on Ethiopian Israelis and we have been very effective in passing legislation in this area." The organization's most recent battle - to secure funding for a promised government plan to provide emergency education, employment and social welfare relief programs to the community - succeeded in obtaining NIS 82 million from the Treasury for 2008. The 2009-10 portion of the program's budget is still not finalized, pending a High Court petition presented last year by the IAEJ and several other Ethiopian non-profits. "I see the IAEJ as the brains behind the Ethiopian community and the only source that can provide the government with the strategic analysis on how to formulate policy," said Odenheimer. In addition to helping formulate policies to improve conditions for the immigrant community, Admasu pointed out that the IAEJ plays an important role as "the voice of the community and forces the decision-makers to take more notice of its plight." He claimed that the economic crisis had only served to worsen most of the socio-economic problems facing the already-struggling population. "If there is no one left to represent them then their situation will go from bad to worse," added Admasu, who noted that over Pessah, more than half of those collecting food packages in such places as Rishon Lezion and Rehovot were from the Ethiopian community. "Many of the charities providing the community with services are cutting back their work or have stopped their operations completely because of the recession," he said, pointing out that IAEJ's political activism will be needed more than ever. Founded in 1969 as the American Association of Ethiopian Jews, the organization's original goal was to campaign for the rescue and immigration of the Ethiopian Jewish community to Israel. Following Operation Solomon - the last large wave of Ethiopian Jewish immigration in 1991 - the AAEJ was disbanded and reformulated in 1993 as the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews, to advocate for better absorption policies for Ethiopian immigrants.