Shlomo Molla: Minorities must unite for social justice

Ethiopian-born MK says state recognization of Sigd holiday is sign of progress for the community.

Sigd festivities, Jerusalem_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Sigd festivities, Jerusalem_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Minority groups must unite against the government’s draconian measures and promote social justice for all, the only lawmaker of Ethiopian descent said on Wednesday.
Speaking on the eve of the Ethiopian Jewish festival Sigd, which is to be marked on Thursday at a central event on Jerusalem’s Haas Promenade, MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) said recent government “attacks” on the judiciary, media and especially NGOs could have a significant impact on the country’s minority populations.
“Communities such as Ethiopian immigrants and the Arab sector, who are usually weaker economically, rely greatly on services provided by NGOs, and the government has already tried to curb their donations,” said Molla, who at the start of this Knesset session was elected deputy speaker, the first Ethiopian-born person to hold this position. Molla is only the second Ethiopian- Israeli to serve in the Knesset since the community started arriving here more than 30 years ago.
He also said certain legislation, such as amendments to the Defamation Law, which passed a first reading Monday, is dangerously damaging to “Israel’s democracy” and bad for society in general.
“I’m not immune to being attacked by the Israeli media but I would rather see bad stories printed about me than no stories at all,” said Molla, highlighting another recent bill that seek to change procedures of appointing Supreme Court justices.
“The media and judiciary have to be free and independent. That is a central facet of a democracy,” he said. “In the end we will become like Iran or Syria or any other dictatorship.”
Molla, who first joined the Knesset four years ago, said it is these social issues that drive him, and he is constantly striving to combine them with the work he does to help his own community.
“We should be treated the same as everyone else,” said Molla. “I mean, how long can I be considered a new immigrant? I have been here for 27 years.
“I do not believe in government programs that single out the Ethiopian community for special treatment. Such programs are useful for new immigrants but not good for the veterans, who should be working harder at blending in.
“It’s not that I don’t want to deal with Ethiopian issues. I do deal with them very often but it’s also important for Ethiopians to break out of the community,” said Molla. “There are 119 other MKs who can also be working to help the Ethiopian community.”
Molla, who vocally supported this summer’s mass social protests, said “The social issues raised in this summer are a shared battle by all of Israeli society, including the Ethiopian community, and we should be dealing with them all together.”
Despite his attempts to use a social platform to unite the country’s minorities, Molla said he is happy to see that there has been progress in recognizing the festival of Sigd as a national holiday.
“There has been progress on that,” said Molla, referring to a law passed two years ago that turned the festival into a recognized holiday in the national calendar. Employees of Ethiopian heritage are entitled to take the day off and some schools are learning about the holiday as part of their curriculum.
Sigd is a religious festival for Ethiopian Jews. Taking place 50 days after Yom Kippur, 29 Heshvan, spiritual leaders, known as kesim, lead the people in a series of prayers in the Ethiopian Jewish language of Gez, calling for a Jewish return to Jerusalem and individuals are urged to repent for any wrongdoings in the past year.