Does it make any sense for Israel to claim to be strengthening its historical ties with Ethiopia, when thousands of Ethiopian Jews in Israel are treated like second-class citizens? Prime Minister HeilaMariam Desalegn should have had the courage to call for the respect of the human rights of these citizens who in the first place were assisted to migrate to Israel by the Jewish state itself.
In July Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his historical visit to four East African countries: Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and concluding in Ethiopia.
Following the visit to Ethiopia, many mainstream media outlets hailed the tour as the strengthening of Israeli and Ethiopian relations spanning 3,000 years. I think this is a cliché given that there are so many sufferings that Ethiopian Jews face in Israel.
The two countries’s relations dates 3,000 years back relating to the story of the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon and the queen coming back home with the seed of Solomon, Menyelik I. Since then it is believed that the blood line of Israel has continued to live in Ethiopia.
However, I argue that PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit in Ethiopia is a slap on the face for a number of reasons.
Primarily the Ethiopian Jews did their Aliyah [migration of Jews from the Diaspora to Isreal] with two big operations by government of Israel, the first being in the 1980s. Currently there are around 135,000 Ethiopian Jews living in Israel. Ethiopian Jews have had to take to the streets of different cities of the state of Israel to protest the decision of Israel government not to accept anymore Ethiopian Jews and other discriminations they face in their daily life. Although the government pledged to bring 1,300 Ethiopians to Israel, this commitment is yet to be implemented.
It is well known that there is widespread discrimination in Israel among different sects of Jews: European, Arab, Russian and Ethiopian. The European Jews are considered elite of the state. One can imagine the degree of bigotry the Ethiopians (being black) are facing given that there is racism against the Arab Jews.
It is as a result of this that the Ethiopian Jews continuously complain of institutionalized discrimination in Israel. The gap between the white and black Israelis is growing like that of the African Americans in the United States. This is obvious in segregated and impoverished neighborhoods, rising unemployment, constraints in achieving academic success and so on. For instance, most of Ethiopian Israelis live in areas that are predominantly Ethiopian.
Another rock-bottom incident in the relationship between Ethiopian Jews and the rest of Israelis came in 1996, when it was revealed that Israeli hospitals had thrown out all blood donated by Ethiopians to other Israelis.
The discrimination gets only worse up to the exclusion of the Ethiopian Jews from other Israelis. One of Israel’s stronger orthodox religious groups doesn’t recognize Ethiopians as Jews or allow their children into its kindergartens. Thus, with this, the very reason that they were taken to Israel is denied and they are alienated from the society. This has led the society of Israel to look at Ethiopians as strangers who do not belong there.
The discrimination of white Israelis against black (Ethiopian) Jews is evolving as the racism African Americans face in the United States of America. Currently, Ethiopian Jews in Israel face higher levels of police-stop searches and arrests than the rest of the population.
The visit by PM Netanyahu resulted major outcomes for Israel in addition to diplomacy and business ties.
In what seemed to be a reciprocated deal to Israel’s support for Ethiopia in her bid to get a seat in the UN Security Council, PM HaileMariam Desalegn said that Ethiopia would support Israel’s bid to gain observer status at the African Union, which was also backed by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta.
PM Netanyahu requested the assistance of PM Desalegn in freeing an Ethiopian Israeli, Avrham Mengistu, who is a captive in the Gaza Strip by the Islamist group Hamas. He is one of the two Israelis being held hostage by Hamas when Israel and Hamas were engaged in war in the summer of 2014.
This very request by the Israeli government is a slap on the face of Ethiopia, as it presents itself a nation that cares about the Ethiopian Jews while there are so many plights they face in their daily life.
I believe that the Ethiopian government should have raised the issue of discrimination and racism and show its concern about the issue. PM Desalegn should have also requested PM Netanyahu to work on narrowing the gap between Ethiopian Jews and other Israelis. This would have reminded the Israeli government and people that these people are not just thrown away from Ethiopia; in fact, the Aliyah was made by the mutual interest of the Israeli government and the Ethiopian Jews themselves and thus they should be treated the same was as the rest of the Israeli society. This act would have conveyed the message that the Ethiopian government cares about its people and served as a voice for the victims.
* Masai Brave is the pseudonym of an independent Pan-African researcher.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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