Foreign workers – the latest victims

If we closely examine Ethiopian community in Israel, community of foreign workers here, we are liable to find quite similar points.

Ethiopian Jews protest (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ethiopian Jews protest
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If we take a moment to closely examine the Ethiopian community in Israel and the community of foreign workers here we are liable to find quite similar points of comparison in society’s attitudes to them. We might assume that this is due to the color of their skin and the inability of Israelis to lay aside the racism so inherent in our society, but it might simply be due to the constant attempts to identify anyone who is different and to defend oneself against him.
Ever since the establishment of the state we have witnessed large waves of aliya to Israel, each from a different country, but all met here with a cold shoulder of scorn, rejection and lack of respect. Whatever their culture or their contribution to the advancement of the State of Israel, the initial reaction by the public is to push them to the margins in an attempt to represent them as foreign and different so that we can find in their background a reinforcement of our national identity.
Due to the existential fears caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, our prejudices first focused on “death to the Arabs,” but soon we discovered that “Russian women follow the oldest profession” and that “Ethiopians stink,” and these beliefs were reinforced by letters from rabbis and racist statements by elected officials. But then it began to seem that the Israeli public had become so unfeeling that the ethnic divides in our society were no longer a strong enough motivation for banishing the stranger, the weak and the different from our midst and so a new method was found – casting doubt on their Jewishness.
Suddenly we had a new reason to make them different from us.
This phenomenon has long been a disease in our society, and the state does nothing to prevent the spreading anger against various population groups, while we, as a society, find ourselves looking for someone new who we can set up as the “other.”
It is not surprising therefore that it is now the turn of the foreign workers.
They are the ultimate outsiders – different in the color of their skin, in their culture, in their language, and as an added bonus, they are not even Jewish! WHEN THE members of my community left Ethiopia to come to Israel, we first arrived in Sudan as refugees and we, too, suffered from decrees that forbade us to work, to shop in the market, to use social services – and all these restrictions were merely to prevent the possibility of our living normal lives.
They went even further and sent us to prison, raped our daughters, cursed our old people, starved us and abused us mentally and physically – and the sad result was that some 4,000 of our people lost their lives. One of them was my brother.
One of the most frightening aspects of the discourse that has developed in recent years is the phenomenon of unbridled elected officials whose words include incitement to hatred and nationalism. They do this to set their voters against anyone who is different in an attempt to derive political gain.
Attempts by public figures to show that the only way to drive out the outsiders is through intimidation or acts of cruelty can only arouse disgust.
The mere thought of stirring up the public against the foreign workers through provocations and malicious ideas indicates a total lack of respect for the values of Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state.
How is it possible that our people, whose past includes such significant historical events as slavery in Egypt, expulsions and inquisitions around the world, who are the descendants of Holocaust survivors, can still consider causing such suffering to others.
There is no doubt that this crisis demands a quick solution, because the phenomenon of the infiltrators is the result of mistakes by Israeli governments and of the “revolving door” effect in regard to bringing in foreign workers. And so, as long as they are here with us, we are responsible for their lives, their health and their rights.
Democracy and human rights cannot be combined with abuse of the different, the other.
The writer is an MK.