Bill to integrate Ethiopian Jews in civil service approved

Only 782 Ethiopian Jews are employed as civil servants; Danon calls lack of representation "disgraceful."

ethiopian aliyah 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ethiopian aliyah 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Legislation aimed at increasing the representation of Ethiopian Jews employed in government offices was approved for its first reading in the plenum on Monday during a special session of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee.
Around 120,000 Ethiopian immigrants and descendants of Ethiopian immigrants live in the country, constituting 1.53 percent of Israelis, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
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Of these, 4,500 have an academic education, but only 782 members of the community are employed as civil servants.
“The lack of representation of Ethiopian immigrants in the civil service is disgraceful,” committee chairman Danny Danon (Likud) said. “We plan to advance this bill as quickly as possible so that local councils, government companies and corporations will be required by law to employ Ethiopians.”
The legislation, sponsored by MKs Tzion Pinyan (Likud), Ya’acov Edri (Kadima) and Ophir Akunis (Likud), would require that government offices and state-owned companies employ a certain percentage of Ethiopians. It is meant to address the difficulties faced by many Ethiopian academics, who, despite having suitable training and relevant experience, fail to secure jobs in the public sector.
“The difficulties facing Ethiopian immigrants are similar to those experienced by immigrants from Morocco when they first arrived here,” Pinyan said. “We are talking about 100,000 immigrants with about 4% of them being academics, and it is very difficult for them to find work in the public service.”
The only current Ethiopian MK, Shlomo Molla (Kadima), said that over the past 15 years there had been numerous government decisions regarding the integration of Ethiopian immigrants into the civil service, but that this had done little to change the situation.
“We really need this law,” he told the committee, adding that the “barrier of discrimination based on color still exists and is a burden of shame on Israeli society.”
Molla said that the main stumbling block to this legislation came from the Justice Ministry, which had prevented the bill from moving forward.
A representative of the ministry responded that it supports the bill, but that changes were needed for it to be applicable to all local authorities and government bodies.
“There are places, such as small authorities, where the law might not be suitable for them,” he said.
Nava Kramer, human resources director at the Government Companies Authority, also expressed concern over the bill, saying that the state should act in accordance with business considerations and that this could make it difficult to enforce such a law.
“It would really be up to the goodwill of employers,” she said, adding that state-owned companies or corporations recruited only a few employees each year.
Attorney Janet Shalom from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry’s Equal Opportunities Employment Commission urged lawmakers to keep the commission updated so that it could monitor the legislation’s implementation.
Representatives of the Ethiopian community welcomed the legislation.
Ziva Makonen-Degu, executive director of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, said the community did not want “breaks” and that jobs in the civil service should be given only to those academically suited to the positions on offer.
Attorney Bosana Yardeni from legal aid organization Tebeka said that the percentage of Ethiopian immigrants holding senior positions in public institutions such as the Israel Electric Corporation, the Bank of Israel and the Airports Authority was “negligible.”
“Government agencies are refusing to take responsibility, and the situation on the ground is far from adequate,” she said. “It is not just the challenge of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry to tackle this problem, but the responsibility of all government offices.”
Yardeni added, “The Ethiopian community pays its taxes and has a high percentage of recruits in the army. Therefore it is time for Israeli society to improve the opportunities and give back to the community.”
A representative of the Bank of Israel who attended Monday’s meeting at the Knesset said that even though the bank was not bound by the Civil Service Appointments Law, it would voluntarily try to address this imbalance and look into hiring more Ethiopian immigrants.
Mira Fierstein, director of Human Resources for the Knesset, said the proposed law would apply to the Knesset and that she intended to focus on the issue by bringing in Amharic- speakers, Ethiopian economists and researchers.
Last month, the cabinet announced that an additional 30 civil service positions would be created in the coming year specifically for members of the Ethiopian community with the aim of increasing representation in government offices.