OPINION: Being a Jew in Israel is not so black and white

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OPINION: Being a Jew in Israel is not so black and white

Michal Gordon
Michal Gordon

by Michal Gordon, who moved from Manchester UK to Israel eleven years ago, and how now lives Bet Shemesh. She is studying in Bar Ilan university for a BA in Social Work 

There are approximately 125,000 Ethiopian Jews living in Israel, and whilst they are supposed to be full citizens with equal rights, their community has continued to face widespread discrimination and socio-economic difficulties.

Since their initial immigration (“Operation Moses” in 1984 and “Operation Solomon” in 1991) Ethiopians have been treated differently because of their foreign culture and dark skin. Their dreams of returning to “Eretz Yisrael” have been met with a harsh reality, and for those that endured the arduous three month journey by foot, the perils they faced…. Hunger, thirst, attacks by bandits and wild animals are too painful to process.

As these new Ethiopian immigrants began settling in Israel, they were helped by local aid agencies, providing them with food, shelter and clothing – the basics of life. Yet the trauma of their long and painful journey remained hidden inside , making it sometimes very difficult to adapt and ‘fit in’ to their new surroundings, and making it even harder for their new society to understand and empathise with the trials they had just experienced.

Sara arrived in Israel when she was 12. “I was sent to a religious boarding school, where I worked very hard to become Israeli and also religious. Whenever I knew something others did not, the teachers were surprised because I was Ethiopian. I wanted to go to university. But they expected us to become nothing more than cleaners.”

With the recent release of the video which displayed the brutal beating of Ethiopian soldier Damas Pakada, multiple anti-racism demonstrations have taken place that have only gained publicity due to the minor amounts of violence that occur during the protests, much of which is instigated by the overwhelming number of policemen present.

Ethiopian Jews suffer from the highest poverty rate among the Jews in Israel, and suffer much higher levels of police stop-search, arrests and incarceration.

The income of an Ethiopian household is 35 per cent lower than that of an average household in Israel, only 5 per cent hold quality jobs as opposed to 33 per cent of Jewish Israelis in general, and half of Ethiopian-Israeli women and 17 per cent of the men work in cleaning and kitchen jobs. These figures stem from the great gap in education in the Ethiopian community. Only 20 per cent have university education as opposed to 40 per cent of the general population, mainly because only 53 per cent of Ethiopian Israelis earn a matriculation certificate (compared with 73 per cent of the population in general).

There have been many organisations/projects set up in order to help and educate both Israelis and Ethiopians understand each others culture (one in particular being the very impressive “Agricultural Farm” in Petach Tikva which teaches Israeli children in the area all about the Ethiopian background and lifestyle, and also provides a place for the Ethiopian adults to farm their produce and come together for cultural ceremonies)

As an immigrant myself from England, I know what it’s like to move countries, resettle and start my life together with my family again. Creating new friendships, learning a new language and dealing with all the problems that come with immigration is not easy and at times I asks myself if it was worth it. However , even with a culture which is very different than the Israeli one, as a white Jew from England I never experienced the hardships, racism or discrimination that Ethiopian Jews have.

Israel needs to understand the Ethiopian Jews are the same as Israeli Jews, American Jews, Russian Jews and European Jews and therefore must continue to educate and correct the way it treats a vulnerable part of its population within its own society.

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