Are the real Jews black Africans

Ethiopian Jews: Second Class Israelis?

In the middle of the many Jewish holidays in September, the news came that a thousand Ethiopian Jews were allowed to enter Israel. For some it was a gesture of goodwill by the Israeli government. Others criticized the slow implementation of existing plans. Avraham Neguise believes that it is at least a step in the right direction. But the Ethiopian-born Knesset member of the ruling party Likud is not yet satisfied: 1300 Ethiopian Jews came to Israel in 2017, now another 1000. "That is not enough," says Neguise. "It's a humanitarian tragedy, a Jewish tragedy. We want everyone to be brought to Israel together and reunited with their families."

The dispute over the immigration of the so-called Falash Mura has been simmering for a long time because the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem does not recognize them as full Jews. Her ancestors were forced to convert to Christianity in Ethiopia, but today most of them live according to the Jewish rules of faith. Those who are about to leave the country already have relatives in Israel. In 2015, the Israeli government decided to allow the approximately 9,000 Ethiopian Jews to enter the country within five years.

Protests against discrimination

This decision is also seen as a political concession. In the spring of 2015, thousands of Ethiopian Jews took to the streets for police violence and everyday discrimination and criticized the way they treated the minority in Israel. The trigger was a video: It showed a young Israeli-Ethiopian soldier being beaten by two police officers. Thousands of demonstrators called on the government to ensure equality before the law. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the incident: "It is our duty to take action against racism and discrimination," said Netanyahu at the time. A special ministerial committee was set up to deal with the concerns of the Ethiopian community.

It was not the first time that the Israeli police and Ethiopian Jews clashed during protests in 2015

One of the protesters in 2015 was Avi Yalou. The young Israeli found it unbearable to watch the police violence. To be dark-skinned and Jewish - for many people that still do not go together today, says Yalou, who lives near the small town of Rehovot. The protests were not just about police violence. "There are so many problems. There are young people who earn less despite graduating and having the same qualifications," says Yalou, who works for an organization that works for more equal opportunities. It is daily routine that the police stop dark-skinned Jews only because of the color of their skin.

"Our goal is to put an end to racism. The way to get there is more like a marathon." Yalou came to Israel with his family in 1991 at the age of six. Around 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were flown out as part of the top secret "Operation Solomon". Yalou sees Israel as his home: this is where he went to school, served in the army, studied - and yet he sometimes has doubts. After all, the protests three years ago sparked a discussion among the Israeli public, he says.

Different treatment with a long history

MEP Avraham Neguise said the government had done a lot to combat latent racism since the demonstrations. "In 2015 there was a demand from the young generation who were born or grew up here to integrate them better into society and not just see them as eternal migrant children," says Neguise. "The government has heard their concerns and the committee is working on them."

Operation Solomon in 1991 evacuated around 14,000 Ethiopian Jews in 35 hours

But even then the topic was not new. As early as the 1970s, activists campaigned for the right of Ethiopian Jews to immigrate. In the mid-1980s, after nearly 8,000 of them had been brought to Israel during the "Moses" operation, there were protests against the rabbinate's requirements for special conversion rituals for Ethiopians. In the 1990s, the so-called blood donation scandal sparked protests: Back then, blood donations from Jews of Ethiopian origin were secretly destroyed - allegedly out of fear of HIV-contaminated blood.

Diverse minority

The Ethiopian community today numbers more than 145,000 people. This makes it less than two percent of the total Israeli population. More than half live below the poverty line. "The Ethiopian community is very diverse," says Efrat Yerday, doctoral student and board member of the Israeli Society of Ethiopian Jews. "There are people who immigrated to Israel two years ago, others came fifty years ago. There is a middle class and a socially disadvantaged class. There are people who hardly speak Hebrew and others who are fluent".

Ethiopian-Jewish clergy celebrated the Sigd festival in Jerusalem in November 2017

Discrimination can be found in many areas of life, says Yerday, who was born in Israel. Even during the immigration process, the aliyah, Ethiopian Jews were treated differently for a long time. They had to spend more time in reception centers and were only able to settle in certain areas afterwards - similar to Jews from Arab countries. She describes the fact that the Ministry of Justice documented institutional discrimination in a report in 2016 as an important step.

Slow change

The so-called Palmor report contained recommendations for the police, the education system and the labor market, among other things. According to Emi Palmor, namesake of the report and director of the Ministry of Justice, he held up a kind of mirror to Israeli society, especially the police. "I think things are changing," said Palmor, referring to a new complaints office in the Justice Department. "Israeli society is much more aware of these problems than before."

After the "Operation Moses", immigrant children from Ethiopia walk through Kirjat Gat with their kindergarten teacher

Creating this awareness is very important, says Tsega Melaku. The radio journalist had already organized the protests after the blood donation scandal in the 1990s, and she took part in the demos again in 2015. "It's not enough to create new jobs. For real change, you have to address the causes," says Melaku, who came to Israel in 1985 at the age of 16 as part of the secret operation Moses.

"I was born in Ethiopia, and we all experienced anti-Semitism there, not because of the color of our skin, but because we were Jews. The generation that was born in Israel doesn't know that. But here they suffer from their skin color come the stereotypes. " She hopes that her grown-up children will have different experiences in the future. Ultimately, Israel is the only place where she can live freely as a Jew. And if someone reveals himself to be a racist, says Melaku, then she can at least say that loud and clear to his face.