Let’s put an end to Ethiopian-Israeli discrimination

The challenges the community faces can be addressed and overcome through the Ethiopian National Project’s work.

BELYANESH ZEVADIA, ambassador to Ethiopia, Peres  370 (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
BELYANESH ZEVADIA, ambassador to Ethiopia, Peres 370
(photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Discrimination against the Ethiopian-Israeli community is unfortunately not a rare occurrence.
How can the Ethiopian-Israeli community be integrated into wider Israeli society? The answer lies in increased educational opportunities, with a national commitment to a real solution: implementing an empirically proven scholastic assistance program, and pooling myriad resources and best practices to make that program available to every eligible Ethiopian-Israeli child nationwide.
Resolving this situation can help Israel in many ways, not least by adding to the growth of Israel’s economy.
The more Israel invests in a workable solution for the problems of the community’s children today, the better we can avoid the untold costs of helping adults and their families in the future.
Not long ago, a school in Petah Tikvah made headlines for its decision to prevent its Ethiopian-Israeli students from taking standardized exams, so as not to harm the school’s performance rating.
The children were given false certificates which did not reflect their actual performance, preventing them from being accepted to other learning institutions.
Sadly, this story is not exceptional.
In pursuit of a just Israeli society, we must ask: how can such phenomena be stopped, and how can we assure Ethiopian- Israeli children equal opportunities to those of their peers? In my role as chairman of the Ethiopian National Project (ENP), I have become a great believer in the promise of the Ethiopian-Israeli community for affecting positive change in the State of Israel, its people and economy.
It is critical to understand the roots of the problem. The first cause is the vast cultural difference between Ethiopia and Israel. Most Ethiopian Jewish immigrant adults knew only their own complex agrarian society that lacked even the basic technological underpinnings that we take for granted in Israel.
Coming here in two major waves of immigration, they have had little or no formal schooling, and often are unable to assist their children in understanding Israel’s modern society.
The second factor is socio-economic: under-performance in school is perpetuated by the lack of family resources for supplemental educational assistance, which some 50 percent to 70% of other Israeli schoolchildren obtain at some point during their high school careers.
A State Comptroller’s report published in May of this year noted that while the Israeli government, NGOs and private donors are indeed providing assistance to some students, this aid does not reach all those who need it. According to the report, only 40% of Ethiopian- Israeli seventh- through twelfth-graders benefitted from matriculation assistance programs in 2012. The report also made note of the lack of coordination among the governmental ministries that have responsibility for this issue. From imbalanced allocation of funds to unsynchronized lists of participant children, poor cooperation among the NGOs, donors and governmental ministries charged with addressing this issue causes serious setbacks.
The recommendations of the report are clear: bring all Ethiopian-Israeli children in need of such assistance into in a single, coordinated and unified program – one with proven success and measured outcomes – and pool the resources to get the job done.
In this way, we can create a truly equal society in which Ethiopian-Israeli children are fully integrated, lessening discrimination in educational institutions and within society at large.
The State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry have invested considerable resources to this end, but poor and ineffective coordination of efforts, like inaction itself, will only perpetuate and even aggravate a national problem that is readily resolvable within a realistic time frame.
Fortunately, a vehicle for putting into practice a proven solution already exists: The Ethiopian National Project (ENP). THE ETHIOPIAN National Project (ENP) was created nine years ago as a partnership between the government of Israel, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA ), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Israel, the Jewish Agency for Israel, UIA-Keren Hayesod and Representatives of Ethiopian Jewish Organizations in Israel.
Unlike other organizations created to promote the successful integration of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, ENP’s policies are developed and implemented by members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community.
This has proven to be a winning strategy, and ENP has managed to operate a highly successful program that has had undeniably positive outcomes.
Among recent findings: In 2010, 60% of the students in the program received matriculation certificates, with the performance among girls at 68%. External quantitative and qualitative evaluations performed by the Myers-JDCBrookdale Institute show that ENP’s program not only improves the performance participating students on matriculation exams, it increases self-confidence and heightens the children’s expectations for a positive future.
ENP’s current budget is approximately NIS 22 million per annum, with funds derived from the government of Israel and Jewish Federations through elective, supplemental giving. The governmental funding, NIS 9 million NIS annually, is equally divided among the ministries of immigration, education and finance. ENP is prepared to expand its activities to include younger children, ages 10 and above.
Accordingly, ENP’s proposed budget will be increased by an additional $10 million per year to reach all Ethiopian- Israeli children in this age group.
ENP ’s leadership has sculpted a plan to include 12,000 children in ENP’s programs in the 2014-15 school year.
An additional $10 million – $5 million from the government of Israel and $5 million from North American Jewry – is required to turn the plan into reality.
Throughout their years of managing ENP’s operations, Lee Kohrman, ENP co-chairman for North America, and Roni Akale, director-general of the ENP, have accrued considerable expertise in providing social and scholastic assistance to the community. They are uniquely equipped to assume the role of managing a nationwide project of this kind.A GOVERNMENTAL decision in 2001 launched the creation of ENP as an equal partnership with Diaspora Jewry. And now, in light of the recent comptroller’s report, ENP’s documented success, and recognizing the undesirable outcome of an improperly coordinated effort, we stand at a crossroads.
We can take the steps needed to ensure a fully integrated, successful Ethiopian-Israeli population, or we can allow the problem to continue, with no real solution in sight.
Last year, ENP provided scholastic and social assistance to 4,300 Ethiopian-Israeli students in 24 communities throughout Israel, from Beit Shean in the north to Beersheba and Arad in the south. In addition, ENP conducts a program for outstanding achievers that prepares them for a joint university-army program, and a vocational technological program for lower-performing students.
Furthermore, ENP operates 20 after-school Youth Outreach Centers throughout Israel that provide leadership training and increase participants’ self-confidence, knowledge and social skills.
Children’s scholastic performance plays a major role in their future as contributing members of society.
Through ENP’s work, the challenges the community faces can be addressed and overcome. Ethiopian-Israeli Jewry will then take its rightful place in Israeli society, just as immigrant communities from other lands have made their way into fully active players in the complex, multi-colored tapestry of Israel.
The author is co-chairman of the Ethiopian National Project.