Ethiopians dismiss new gov’t absorption program

Cabinet approves new plan to improve conditions, but social leaders, Kessim call plan ‘paternalistic.’

Protesting against discrimination in Jerusalem 390 (photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
Protesting against discrimination in Jerusalem 390
(photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
Leaders of Israel’s 120,000-strong Ethiopian community downplayed the government’s approval of a social welfare plan on Sunday, calling it paternalistic and insufficient to resolve lingering socioeconomic problems.
“It’s just cosmetics,” Michal Avera Samuel, Director of FIDEL – Association for Education and Social Integration of Ethiopian Jews in Israel – told The Jerusalem Post.
“We are very angry about this and it just shows how the government plans to continue to make the same mistakes it did in the past,” Avera Samuel said.
According a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, the new plan will sharply increase the number of housing grants allocated to new Ethiopian immigrants, as well as create a new employment service dedicated to placing Ethiopians in jobs that match their education and skill level.
The government will fund 30 new civil service positions in order to boost the presence of Ethiopians in the public sector and will appoint two new kessim – or spiritual leaders – to work with the community.
The new plan also features a comprehensive outreach program in an attempt to tackle racism against the Ethiopian community. According to local media reports, discrimination and hostility have reached a record high.
The Prime Minister’s Office statement stipulated that the new plan will intertwine with a five-year plan established in 2008. The previous program was aimed at improving the absorption of the Ethiopian community.
But according to Avera Samuel and other Ethiopian-Israeli leaders, the previous plan never fulfilled its goals after the government slashed its initial budget and incorporated it into the previous immigrant absorption programs in each government ministry.
“That five-year plan is not even working properly and yet the government just wants to take something that is not working and revive it,” Avera Samuel stated. She joined the heads of other Ethiopian NGOs and kessim in sending a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other government ministers last week, urging them to delay approving the latest plan.
“We are very angry about what has happened,” she said.
“The prime minister promised to include us in the decision-making process and not to continue on with the failed programs that have been used in the past.”
According to Avera Samuel, the Ethiopian-Israeli community would like to see a more holistic and comprehensive approach to immigrant absorption. The government has yet to respond to the letter, she said.
Over the past few months, following media reports of several racist incidents against Ethiopian Jews, the prime minister met regularly with many senior leaders and activists from the Ethiopian- Israeli community.
In announcing the new plan, Netanyahu said that his goal was to address all the issues raised at these meetings.
“I have personally met with members of the Ethiopian community from kessim to young people and I understand the deep problems facing the community,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
“Today we are presenting a comprehensive program to improve the immigration and absorption of Ethiopian immigrants.”
The prime minister said that in addition to the new plan, the government would no longer carry out a policy of school segregation between Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian students. He pledged to increase efforts at integrating new immigrants into the mainstream of Israeli society.
“We want to bring a message to the Israeli people, there is no room for racism here,” Netanyahu said, mentioning that Ethiopian Jews play a pivotal role in Israeli and Jewish history.
Following Sunday’s announcement, Ethiopian MK Shlomo Molla said the new plan lacked creativity and failed to solve the intractable problems of institutionalized discrimination facing the community.
“Unfortunately there is nothing new that will serve all those young people who protested against discrimination and social problems a few months ago,” Molla said.