Sunday, September 30, 2018

Racism and being a Black Jew

Ethiopian Jews have taken to the streets many times, demanding equality before the law in Israel. But do the activists think anything has changedToday, the Ethiopian community is made up of more than 145,000 people — less than two percent of Israel's total population. Over half live below the poverty line.

There has long been a dispute over the immigration of the Falash Mura — mainly because the Chief Rabbinate does not recognize them as fully Jewish. Their ancestors were forced to convert to Christianity in Ethiopia, but today their descendants live according to Jewish religious customs. Those who are waiting to immigrate to Israel already have family there.

"To have dark skin and to be a Jew — for some people it doesn't really match-up," Avi Yalou, who works at an NGO that advocates for the equality of Ethiopian Jews, told DW. However, the protests were not just about police violence. "There are many problems," says Yalou. "There are young people who, despite having a degree and similar qualifications, still get paid less." Yalou was six years old when he came to Israel with his family in 1991 through 'Operation Solomon' — a covert military operation to airlift approximately 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. He considers Israel to be his homeland: he went to school, joined the army and studied here. But he's still uncertain if he will ever feel fully accepted in society.

Examples of discrimination can be found in many areas of life, says Israeli-born member at the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, Efrat Yerday told DW. Even during the immigration process, Ethiopian Jews were treated differently from other Jews who came to Israel. They had to spend more time in the absorption centers for example — temporary living quarters where immigrants are given intensive Hebrew lessons — and could only settle in certain areas afterwards, much like Jews from Arab countries. Although some progress has been made on this front, it's still not enough, Yerday says, pointing out a report published by the Ministry of Justice in 2016, which provided evidence of institutionalized discrimination.

"It's not enough to just create new jobs," says Melaku, who came to Israel as a 16-year-old through 'Operation Moses' in 1985. "For real change, you have to tackle the root causes … Those who were born in Ethiopia suffered from antisemitism, not from racism, because we all had the same skin color. We suffered because we were Jews and we were abused and hurt for thousands of years. The generation who was born here doesn't know what we went through. They suffer because of the color of their skin — with this skin also come stereotypes." Ultimately, she says, Israel is the only place where she can freely live as a Jew. 

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