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21st Knesset.(Photo by: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Knesset discusses the government "embarrassment" in integrating Ethiopians
The meeting took place following two weeks of protests by the Ethiopian community in the wake of the police shooting of Solomon Tekah.
“There were Israeli governments that I agreed and disagreed with,” MK Yair Lapid (Blue and White ) said on Monday, at a special Knesset session on the challenges facing the Ethiopian community. “There were governments that I sat in or did not sit in. But this is the first time since then that there’s a government that I’m embarrassed of.”

Lapid said that the struggle of the 130,000 Ethiopian-Israelis against discrimination has hurt the country’s appearance on an international level.

The Knesset meeting took place following two weeks of protests by the Ethiopian community in the wake of the police shooting of Solomon Tekah.

“The last two weeks for me have been hell,” MK Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White) said through tears. She urged Netanyahu to open up an investigation into the Ethiopian community focusing not only the struggles of the past but also the problems of the present. “We are fighting for a home and a nation, because we all deserve peace,” she said. “Solomon Tekah deserves justice.”

Other MKs present at the meeting argued that the discussion of racism should be broadened beyond on the Ethiopian community to include a dialogue about discrimination against Arab-Israelis.

“Whenever I see a headline against discrimination, I know it’s not about discriminations against Arabs,” said MK Ahmed Tibi. “With the Arabs there’s always an explanation.”

According to Tibi, discrimination is “not when one Jew discriminates against another, it’s when they discriminate against the other.”

Tamano-Shata, the first Ethiopian-born woman to hold a Knesset seat, spoke about different forms of discrimination that she has observed and faced. She spoke about Ethiopian mothers’ fear that they would sign their children up for pre-kindergarten, yet be turned away at the door when the school learns of their skin color.

She said that she would be afraid to let her children outside past 11 p.m. because she worries that they will not be protected. She cited disproportionately high numbers of Ethiopian children kept in juvenile detention centers: usually 20% to 40% of the detainees are Ethiopian, yet the community constitutes only 4% of the population, she said.

“There’s no rest from this for the past 40 years,” said MK Gadi Yevarkan (Blue and White).

He called the Police Internal Investigations Department a “problem,” and demanded an external investigation into the circumstances of Tekah’s death.

Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz said that the investigation must include “a full and transparent report,” and recommended police training that would emphasize familiarity with the Ethiopian community to avoid poor communication during law enforcement.

Gantz also highlighted education and youth programs as important elements in providing aid to Ethiopians, and recommended “cracking the social fabric of the neighborhoods” by establishing youth villages and urban kibbutzim in Ethiopian neighborhoods. Integration of Ethiopian children into the education system from the beginning was another solution he proposed. “Things must happen immediately,” Gantz said.

Immigrant Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant (Likud) recommended that more youth enrichment programs be instituted to engage children from the start. He laid out a multi-pronged plan that included improvements in Ethiopian health care and housing, and said he hopes to introduce measures to increase the number of medical professionals who are equipped to take care of Ethiopian and immigrant patients.

“Governments and generations have tried to help with the integration,” Gallant said. “We will have to bring it about with actions and not just words.”

During Gallant’s speech, a scuffle broke out in the audience, causing ushers to ask some attendees to leave. After Gallant spoke of integration, he was heckled. When the hecklers were asked to leave, Tekah’s family followed suit.
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