‘The Last Hope’

Program criteria for Ethiopian Israelis should be based on academic, economic or sociological need, with special attention to integration into Israeli society for all groups.

Summer camp for Ethiopian kids 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Summer camp for Ethiopian kids 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
More than three decades of attempts at integration into Israeli society have now gone by. Although there have been some meaningful individual accomplishments, the Ethiopian Israeli community as a whole remains at the lowest socio-economic level of Jewish Israeli society. In recent years, a new generation has come of age, urgently seeking solutions and painfully aware that it is up to us to bring about a positive change.
Immersed in our parents’ dazzling determination to return to Zion – the main reason for our being here – we cannot reconcile with the dangerous prospect of descending into a world of poverty, marginalization and discrimination against a black Jewish minority in a white society. A society filled with prejudice, labels, stereotypes and expressions of racism toward Ethiopian Israelis, whether these stem from ignorance or systemic social philosophy.
The State Comptroller’s Report (May 2013) confirms what we have always suspected – the lack of a true desire among those dealing with absorption to champion proper integration of the Ethiopian Israeli community into Israeli society. Three decades of profuse programs with substantial funding, mainly from the US, without much coordination, clear objectives or focus on output, have resulted in an outrageous waste of resources. Moreover, they have generated a dependent and marginal community whose capabilities have been undermined, intensifying a negative social image combined with racist attitudes toward Ethiopian Israelis.
As young social activists from the community, we are seriously troubled. When we are able to lift our heads above our daily concerns and attempt to look toward the horizon, our hopes for a change in the status quo and a better future seem impossible.
It is difficult to raise children in an atmosphere in which there are segregated kindergartens intended only for Ethiopians, schools that are unwilling to accept Ethiopian Israeli students and if so in separate classes, a special, all-inclusive classifying track for army recruits, distinct academic preparatory programs, exclusion and discrimination in employment, scandalous court rulings and repeated media exposure of racist expressions based on skin color.
Our worries are not only for our children, born and raised in this reality, not only for the improvement of the community’s low socio-economic position and poor image. We are also concerned for an Israeli society which does not see where the perpetuation of the status quo is leading, and for the Jewish people for whom discrimination, exclusion and racism are part of our historical experience, and who therefore are well aware of the consequences of knowing and remaining silent.
We are not requesting the creation of more programs designed specifically for Ethiopian Israelis. We are issuing a clarion call for a reality in which such programs are no longer necessary.
In order to accomplish this change, three strategic elements are required for an “Exit Plan” that will instill the hope that we are truly at home, in an environment in which the barriers have been removed and where we are truly respected and can flourish: 1. An Exit Plan from the lowest socio-economic levels of society – this can be accelerated by establishing an economic development authority in the Prime Minister’s Office which will act as a coordinating and integrating body, one that will think and follow up in relation to government activity for the economic advancement of Ethiopian Israelis.
This was promised after the housing/racism demonstrations in 2011 but was dropped by the Prime Minister’s Office after the demonstrators and tent cities dispersed.
2. An Exit Plan from the poor neighborhoods – a program which will assist the integration of Ethiopian Israelis in various towns and cities across Israel and result in a direct connection between Israeli society and the community, allowing us to live together equitably.
Preliminary discussions on the topic were held with the Prime Minister’s Office, but these have unfortunately not continued.
3. An Exit Plan from special programs for Ethiopian Israelis. Programs should be based on need, not on race.
Rather than offer programs to Ethiopian Israelis because they are Ethiopian Israelis, program criteria should be based on academic, economic or sociological need, with special attention to integration into Israeli society for all groups.
These fundamental actions will succeed only if the prism through which Ethiopian Israelis are seen by the senior civil service and those dealing with absorption changes, through an internalization and understanding of the consequences of sustaining the status quo.The writer is a representative of the Ethiopian Israeli Activists Forum.