Ethiopians call on US Jews to fight racism in Israel

"American Jews have the power to put pressure on gov't here, help us to change situation,” social equality organization head says.

Ethiopian-Israelis at a demonstration against racism 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ethiopian-Israelis at a demonstration against racism 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
After two mass anti-racism rallies, a hearing in the Knesset and an intensive media-awareness campaign, young Ethiopian-Israelis are turning their focus to Diaspora Jews in the hope that those who helped facilitate their aliya will now also help in the fight against racism here.
“We believe that American Jews have the power to put pressure on the government here and help us to change the situation,” Gadi Yevarkan, director of the Center for Social Equality for the Ethiopian Jews, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
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“We know that we are here because of generous donations from the Jews in the Diaspora and we will never forget their assistance – but first we want them to know that the funds they have donated are not reaching the Ethiopian community, and we want to ask them for their help in making a real change,” he said.
Yevarkan is one of a growing number of young Ethiopian-Israelis who has become active in recent weeks galvanizing members of the community to fight ongoing discriminatory practices and racism against their community.
Considered the second generation of Ethiopian immigrants – they either arrived here as young children or were born in Israel – their ire was sparked recently by a news report that some residents of Kiryat Malachi signed an agreement not to sell or rent their apartments’ to families of Ethiopian descent.
Since that story, several other incidents have come to light, including a news report this week of a school-bus driver telling Ethiopian school children to rid themselves of their terrible smell.
“We are looking for the support of US Jews to rally on behalf of the Ethiopian community here,” explained Binyamin Aklom, an activist who often speaks to groups of American Jews, and over the past few days has been reaching out to his contacts in numerous Jewish organizations in the US to raise awareness to what has been happening here.
“We know that the Ethiopian community does not have a strong political voice and we are looking to Jews in the Diaspora to help us in this battle, not only financially,” said Aklom, who is hoping to organize a march in New York that will show solidarity with Ethiopian-Israelis.
Aklom said that as well as pressuring the Israeli government to take up the battle against discrimination, US Jewry in particular could draw on its own experiences fighting racism to help the black Jews in Israel.
“This is a chance for US Jews to show that they rally against racism and to really speak out on our behalf,” he said.
In addition, Aklom and other activists told the Post this week that there needs to be more transparency with funds raised specifically to aid in the community’s immigration and absorption process.
A report released this week by the Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry showed that 61.4 percent of the 116,000- strong immigrant community have open files with social services, and even among the second generation the chances of them having met with a social worker is twice as high as those outside the community.
“We know there are generous donations and we want to see the money being better invested,” said Aklom, explaining that even the operating costs of hundreds of nonprofits working to help the community is draining the funds, meaning that the money is not getting to the people in need.
“We would like to see the funding better organized and make sure that it is really reaching the people,” he said.
Efrat Yerday, spokeswoman of the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews, also emphasized the need for more transparency.
“Right now, much of the money being donated to the Ethiopian community is disappearing, because it is just not possible that with all this money being donated to various nonprofits there are still so may Ethiopian families that are struggling,” she said.
“If all that money was reaching the immigrants directly, then many of them would not still be living in poverty,” Yerday said.