03 April 2016

Israel: No promised land for Ethiopian Jews

Middle East Eye

GONDAR, Ethiopia—Recently in the northwestern Ethiopian city of Bahir Dar, I had the pleasure of encountering an Israeli tourist who was displeased by the superior fees charged to foreign visitors for entrance to the country’s museums, churches, and other sites. Ethiopian citizens pay much less.
Never mind that the per capita annual income in Ethiopia - $550 according to the World Bank’s last calculation - is less than the price of the average round-trip ticket from Tel Aviv to Addis Ababa.
According to the Israeli, the disparity in entrance fees was tantamount to “racism” - a curious choice of vocabulary, no doubt, for a white person hailing from a state that has racism rather down to an art, and even more curious in the context of Ethiopia in particular.
The Ethiopian community in Israel at present numbers about 135,000 people. The arrival of Ethiopian Jews to the Jewish state began in the 1970s, when, as a BBC article notes, “the Israeli secret service Mossad organised their immigration through refugee camps in Sudan,” where they were fleeing war, famine, and persecution. In the 1980s and '90s, the Israeli military staged two major covert airlift operations, dubbed “Operation Moses” and “Operation Solomon” respectively. After that, migration continued in slightly less dramatic form.
While the influx of Ethiopian Jews may have assisted numerically in establishing Israel as the official homeland for Jews worldwide, thereby counteracting rightful Palestinian claims to the area, the resulting skin-colour scheme has proved unwelcome to many sectors of the Israeli population.
For Ethiopians in Israel, racism and discrimination have been the name of the game. Obstacles to a reasonably gratifying existence have included curtailed educational and employment opportunities, with many children forced into what has in recent years often amounted to a segregated school system. A March 2016 article in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that, “among [Israeli] children finishing 12th grade in 2013 and taking exams, only 26 percent of students of Ethiopian origin achieved matriculation results enabling acceptance to university, compared with 52 percent of the general population”.
Fifty-two, it turns out, is a bit of a recurring number. In 2013, the same paper reported that “nearly 52 percent of Ethiopian-immigrant families [in Israel] are below the poverty line”. As would be expected, unemployment rates for Ethiopian Jews are higher and wages are lower.
Meanwhile, practices aimed at the societal exclusion of dark-skinned Jews have reportedly ranged from decisions by certain landlords not to rent properties to Ethiopian-Israeli families to a recurring denial of marriage licenses to Ethiopian-Israelis in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikva. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.