In what is quickly becoming a trend of protests throughout Israel (beginning with the tent protests which started in Tel Aviv last summer, and including the current gender equality campaign) another voice is now calling for attention. The Ethiopian residents of Israel arrived in several aliyahs (mass immigration movements to Israel) over several decades, beginning in the 1970s, and culminating in two large rescue operations by the Israeli government when conditions in Ethiopia became unbearable. The first such initiative, named Operation Moses, ended in 1985, after bringing approximately 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. The second large initiative, Operation Solomon, brought almost 15,000 Ethiopians to Israel in less than 48 hours, during May, 1991.
While the Ethiopian citizens of Israel appear integrated in many ways; serving in the army, attending schools and universities, and obtaining employment in varied fields, there is still a clear division in the social status of their community and that of many other Israelis, and recently that divide has reared its head in the ugly form of racism..
More than 2000 members of the local Ethiopian community came together to stage a protest Wednesday night, following the refusal of a local homeowner‘s committee to rent apartments to Ethiopian residents. The gathering took place in the Israeli town of Kiryat Malakhi, and called for a stop to racism and discrimination by the city‘s non–Ethiopian residents. The town of Kiryat Malakhi numbers approximately 20,000 residents, and of that number, 30% are of Ethiopian origin. Ethiopian residents of the town were also joined by hundreds of people who traveled from around Israel to support them in their cause.
Protestors held signs with messages such as “Our Blood is only good for wars” and “Our Skin is black but our heart is white. Your skin is white, but your heart is black“. The protest garnered attention around the country, and in response Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is launching a police investigation into the claims that apartment owners are refusing to rent to Ethiopians. According to Weinstein, “A democratic society cannot tolerate humiliation and hostility directed at people because of their ethnicity or the color of their skin.”
In negotiations with Ethiopian community leaders, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver remarked that the Ethiopians should be thanking the state instead of protesting, leading to heated responses from several other parties. Opposition leader Tzippi Livni released a statement saying that ‘All Israeli citizens, regardless of their ethnicity, color or gender have the right to live in dignity and receive equal rights – not as a favor from the state but as a right. The cabinet ministers are acting as though they need to be reminded of this.”
President Shimon Peres denounced racist expressions toward the Ethiopian community in Israel, saying that “every person in Israel should be ashamed of the phenomenon of racism we have been witnessing recently. Additionally, while addressing the remarks of the Immigrant Absorption Minister, Peres stressed that “The entire State of Israel should thank the Ethiopian community for making aliyah, not the other way around.”Leave a comment