Ethiopian Israelis reject possible project head appointment

Over past few weeks, elements in community voiced anger over Roni Akele's appointment to lead project dealing with needs of immigrants.

ethiopian aliyah 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ethiopian aliyah 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The likely appointment of a new CEO to head one of the Ethiopian community’s flagship organizations for absorption and education has been sharply criticized by some community leaders, with one group seriously threatening to take legal action if the appointment comes to fruition, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Roni Akele, currently director of the non-profit Fidel Association for Education and Social Integration of Ethiopian Jews, was touted Monday evening at a board meeting of the Ethiopian National Project (ENP) to take over as director of the multi-million-shekel initiative set up in 2002 to tackle the needs of the 110,000-strong Ethiopian immigrant community here.
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However, over the past few weeks, elements within the community have voiced anger over Akele’s potential appointment, suggesting he had not followed the prestigious organization’s protocols and even had manipulated members of the decision-making body.
A statement from the ENP’s legal counsel immediately denounced the claims, which are being spearheaded by Isaachar Mekonen, a representative of the Ethiopian Jewish Community Organizations and chairman of the Zionists Israel Organization – Officers Forum, along with several other key leaders.
According to Mekonen, who has secured the services of a Tel Aviv law firm to fight the appointment, Akele was still serving on the ENP’s board when he submitted his candidacy for the coveted position, manipulated the decision-making committee by placing associates there, and utilized a certain degree of nepotism to become the central candidate for the job.
“It is clear that if Mr. Akele is appointed as CEO, he will be in an inherent conflict of interest from the beginning – a situation in which Mr. Akele has pretenses to act as CEO in charge of millions of shekels received from public funds and donations – conducting business with dozens of his relatives,” wrote Mekonen’s lawyers in a letter to the board dated February 17.
“The ENP is an organization that is vital to the Ethiopian community and appointing a candidate who sits on the board and chooses his own people for the decision-making committee is unethical,” he explained to the Post Monday.
Mekonen said he planned to seek a legal injunction against Akele’s appointment as soon as it was made official.
In response to Mekonen’s claims, the ENP’s lawyers wrote: “In light of his candidacy, Roni Akele did not participate in board meetings of the ENP or the project’s council even before the selection committee was established.” The lawyers also said that the selection committee was satisfied with its decision to appoint Akele and firmly believed he was the best person for the job.
“I have not heard about the claims against me,” responded Akele. “Once I decided to apply for the position, I resigned from the board, and everything that has happened since then has been in keeping with the correct procedures.”
He suggested that the grievances against him were personal and not connected to his ability to take over the position.
The ENP was inaugurated in 2002 and started operations in 2005 with funds raised primarily by the Jewish Federations of North America and a matching amount from the Israeli government reaching more than NIS 10 million a year.
Today, roughly 84 Jewish federations from across the globe contribute financially to the ENP. It also receives support from representatives of the Ethiopian Jewish Community Organizations, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Israel and Keren Hayesod-UIA, as well as dozens of local authorities in Israel.