After 20 Years in Israel, Ethiopian Jewish Community Still Struggles

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An Ethiopian IDF soldier at the Kotel.
06 May 2015
An Ethiopian IDF soldier at the Kotel.
An Ethiopian IDF soldier at the Kotel.(IDF)

When the Ethiopian Jewish community arrived in Israel in 1991, the New York Times reported it was  “it was difficult to tell who was more joyful.”

“The barefoot Ethiopians who cheered, ululated and bent down to kiss the tarmac as they stepped off the planes, or the Israelis who watched them aglow, marveling at this powerful image showing that their state still holds appeal, even with all its problems,” stated the Times.

However, almost largely since then, the Ethiopian integration into the larger Israeli society has been plagued with problems, including racism, segregation and abject poverty. The situation came to the boiling point with the police beating of an Ethiopian soldier. In the ensuring week, protests gripped Tel Aviv.

The Times of Israel has this report on the protests and the larger status of the Ethiopian community in Israel. It is not a pretty picture. Even in the Holy Land, it seems, racism is alive and well.

Ziva Birsaw immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia as a child in 1984. Today she works with Ethiopian youth at risk in the townships outside Haifa, where she said she has witnessed cases of police abusing its authority in interactions with young Israelis of Ethiopian descent.

The police opened a robbery case for one young person I worked with even though there was proof that he was not there,” Birsaw told The Times of Israel. “Then the police kept showing up out of the blue at his home to arrest him. They seemed to just want to keep reminding him that they are around and they’re watching him.”

The incident was not isolated and the past several days have seen years of frustration over lack of opportunities and charges of institutionalized discrimination across Israeli life boil into the open, climaxing Sunday night in an intense protest in central Tel Aviv that descended into a violent clash with police

The protests were touched off by a video of a black Israeli soldier being beaten by police, but while the trigger for the protests was the attack, the demonstrators say they were brought into the streets by pervasive racism and discrimination resulting from their ongoing segregation from general Israeli society.

Read more at The Times of Israel.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.