Racism in Israel: Israeli Jews to Ethiopian Jews

What is considered to be the main cause of the selected political issue (i.e., history, culture, etc.)?

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With the high rise of racism throughout the world, Israel has contributed to the racism towards the influx of Ethiopian Jews migrating to their alleged homeland. Ethiopians had little to no exposure to Jews outside of Ethiopia; hence, were not educated of the other Jews in the world. This caused differences with the basic practices of both Israeli and Ethiopian Judaism. During the immigration period, the Ethiopians were named Beta-Israel and were considered outsiders for centuries in their homeland of Ethiopia, because they were Jews. The religious discrimination is what caused the immigration to Israel in the 1980s. Majority of Ethiopian immigrants appeared in two groups to Israel. The first was called Operation Moses in 1985-6, while the second was Operation Solomon which was in 1991 (Ben-Eliezer, 2004). Roughly 100,000 Jewish Ethiopians migrated to Israel, causing an immeasurable confusion for both groups.

Within the Israeli government there is a Parliament or House of Representatives function, which is known as the Israeli Knesset. These seats are elected in by the citizens; however, the Israeli elections are unique compared to various democratic countries. As a democratic country, the electoral system in Israel does not eliminate the racism within the country. Additionally, the citizens of Israel do not vote for a specific candidate; but rather, vote for a political party. Furthermore, the front runners within the elected political party, which are determined by the specific political party, are then selected into office. This also dictates the amount of people within the same political party that will sit in the Knesset. This is very controversial for multiple reasons, primarily since the citizens that carry the responsibility in voting for the officials are prejudice towards Ethiopian citizens (Knesset Elections, 2014).

Representation is an extreme importance within the government. As stated before, the citizens of Israel are racist towards the Ethiopian Jews. Many Ethiopians are told that they are not Jewish enough or that their blood is only good for army service, but not good enough after (Frantzman, 2015). Citizens dictate the majority political party, which ultimately controls the amount of Ethiopian representation. Currently, there are only two Ethiopian born representatives in the Knesset. This is controversial, especially since about two percent of Israel is made up of Ethiopian Jews and the representation is dependent on Penina Tamanu-Shata, a Deputy Speaker and Avraham Neguise, who holds a regular Chair position.

There are many legislative and social tendencies that have been set in place to advance the racism against Ethiopian Jews. Some of them include the following. There has been a fuming debate about the dismissal of people seeking asylum in Israel from an African descent. The interesting part about the discussion is the way the Israeli Government and supporters of the dismissal are trying to claim that the dismissal is not in any way associated with the skin colors of the deportees. The Israeli government claims that the asylum seekers are illegals and infiltrators to the Israeli nation[footnoteRef:1]. Yerday (2018) thought of attending one of Knesset hearings discussing the issue of expulsion of asylum seekers and provoking a discussion with one the Knesset members if only to trigger logic in the conclusion that any black woman should have equal rights as any other Israeli woman and should not be considered an infiltrator. According to Yerday (2018) any Israeli citizen notwithstanding their background should be made to feel comfortable .Further they should be able to openly criticize any decisions they feel is in violation of the human rights of asylum seekers and discriminated Israeli Citizens Ethiopian descent1. [1: Yerday, F. (2018, Feb 1). They Didn’t Want Ethiopian Jews in Israel, Either. HAARETZ. Retrieved November 25, 2018]

There is a common phenomenon in Israel where confusion reigns for the people who are both Jewish and Black. It is a fact that racism practiced based on the color of skin does not pay respect to whether the victim is indeed an Israeli citizen or not or whether the victim is a Jew or a Muslim. The logic applied by Yerday (2018) was that an Israeli who is against a black person would also find a reason to stand against any other person depending on the circumstance1. Ethiopian Jews have found it quite difficult to become part of the Israeli society. The Israeli absorption ministry discussed the difficulty that Ethiopian Jews would have in the process of becoming integrated with other Jews. Some of the people serving in the Israeli government considered the Falashas as illiterate, sick, downtrodden, and primitive1. The doctoral thesis report by Dr. Chen on Ethiopian Jews migration detailed the report about the genesis of the Jewish law that acknowledged that Ethiopian Jews are actually Jews in every way1.

Yerday (2018) claimed that the deportation of asylum seekers was beyond racism. It was actually a failure in the reasoning informed by the Ethiopian Jews History. The Israeli people were confronted with several situations where they had to deal with Black Jews and other black people. It is not possible to separate the issue of deportation of the black community from the Israeli government fierce opposition since the Black Jews Aliyah State was formed1. Even through the return law for Ethiopian Jews was passed the Israeli government raised several difficulties. Thousands of Ethiopian Jews died during the 11 years they stayed in the refugee camps in Sudan as well as on their way to the refugee camps. Israel delayed the return of the Jews until the 1984 Operation Moses. Israeli government was quite excited about the Aliyah Russian white and English speaking people. The government even changed the return laws to facilitate the return of the Aliyah.

The same Israeli government rejected the return of the Ethiopian Aliyah. Five years after the Ethiopian Jews arrived into Israel Yosef Burg issued an order on the deportation of 5 Ethiopian Jews who were seen as infiltrators into the Israeli society1. The attempts by the Israeli government to conceal the issues of deportation under the disguise of legality were only done to push the racism agenda against black people using legality issues deceitful. It is quite clear that the Israeli government and the Israeli people have had a problem accepting that Ethiopian Jews and by extension any other people that are viewed as intruders are part of the Israeli society. It is more an issue of deceit that applying the law to safeguard the territorial integrity of the Israeli Nation.

The Israeli situation with the Ethiopian Jews is very much comparable to the black lives matter movement in America. The movement has received renewed intensity especially due to the increased instances reported about police officers using lethal force against unarmed protesters and people of African heritage. In Israel Ethiopian Jews have also flocked the streets protesting a phenomenon that is not any different from this one[footnoteRef:2]. On 2016 July 3rd Ethiopian Jews took to the streets of Tel Aviv, which is the Economic capital of Israel. They were commemorating the brutal murder of one of the victims of police brutally Mr. ZYosef Salamsa[footnoteRef:3]. The protesters called for the jailing of the police officers who were involved in the criminality. The protesters also complained about partisan and discriminative government policies that segregated community members from the life of other Israelis. The discrimination penetrated to the military education and housing3. Although the protests by the Ethiopian Jews was not in any way connected to the planning of the black lives matter movement, most of the protests in Tel Aviv were greatly inspired by the heroism showed by the African American protesters and the cultural icons among the black people. [2: Ade-Serrano, Yetunde, and Ohemaa Nkansa-Dwamena. 2016. Black Lives Matter. Psychologist. British Psychological Society. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.1689.] [3: Sheen, D. (2016, July 14). #BlackLivesMatter, Israel and the fight against racism. The New Arab. Retrieved November 25, 2018 ]

Some of the Ethiopian Jews protesters wore proclamation posters featuring prominent black American people such as Tupac Shakur, Tommic Smith, John Carlos, and Malcolm X. Some protesters proclaimed Malcom X famous saying that it is impossible to have capitalism without entertaining racism3. The US government fully supports the Israeli government. This has been seen as an act of solid racism by the American government. The actions by the Israeli government against black migrants should never be condoned or perpetuated by the American government. There are many similarities between the struggles endured by the Ethiopian Jews and the Black Americans. The genome of the Israeli people is quite wide and extensive. It details populations from various backgrounds including the Indian-Jews, the Beta-Jews or Ethiopian-Jews etc. There are various Jewish groups who are not considered native including the Asian, African and European Jews. They are generally referred to as the diaspora Jews[footnoteRef:4]. For some reasons the Ethiopian Jews have faced the blunt of discrimination and racism in Israel. Their repatriation was also marred with controversy and disagreements. [4: Behar, D. M., Yunusbayev, B., Metspalu, M., Metspalu, E., Rosset, S., Parik, J., Villems, R. (2010). The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people]

For many centuries the American society has been made up of the Africans of sub-Saharan origin. During the period of slavery the African Americans were deprived of their human rights under the law. This is not any different from the agenda the Israeli community is trying to drive against the black community3. The African-Americans of today still suffer police brutality and institutional racism. The black community has a formidable political power in the landscape of the American society unlike the Ethiopian Jews. This is because the black population accounts for close to 12% of the entire American population3. In contrast Most Ethiopian Jews have been part of the Israeli society for only a handful of years. They were repatriated beginning the 1980s. Since the Ethiopian Jews arrived until recently they have enjoyed the nominal rights afforded to all Israel State citizens1.

Although the Ethiopian Jews have not endured the traumatic incidents endured by the African slaves in the U.S. or the blatant segregation the improvement of their economic environment has been quite slow mostly because since they arrived the white supremacist Israeli leaders have not been welcoming to them. The Ethiopian Jews have essentially been forced on the supremacists by the American white Jewish Zionists. The Jewish Zionists hoped to convince the liberal political world that the people of Israel are not as racist as they actually are1. Over time the small population of the Ethiopian-Jews has failed to marshal enough influence mostly because they are only small in number accounting for about 1% of the entire Israeli population or 100,000 people1. One other reason why Ethiopian Jews have been unable to make any fundamental inroads into their struggle against racism perpetuated by the state is that there has been a shortage of political players among their ranks to act as con-conspirators. Most Ethiopian Jews have shied away from seeking alliances with groups that would partner with them in their political struggle such as other experienced political strategists of :5]. [5: Salamon, Hagar. 2003. Blackness in Transition: Decoding Racial Constructs through Stories of Ethiopian Jews. ]


It is not yet clear whether the oppressed Ethiopian-Jews and other oppressed groups can form a solidarity bond to challenge the discrimination and racism perpetuated by the Israeli government and the white supremacist groups. This is in part because the other largest segregated communities are the East Africans from Sudan and Eritrea who moved to Israel recently in the past one decade. These people have been victims of brutal violence from the Israeli State and from open street racism in Israel1. One reason why the bond of solidarity between the Ethiopian-Jews and other black Africans has not materialized is because the State of Israel has denied the minorities work permits and put them inside concentration camps. Furthermore, the state government has expelled some of them into the deep of African continent mostly because of their religious beliefs and not because of them not being Jews. Most who are Animists, Muslims, and Christians have suffered the blunt1.

The forces that make it impossible to have political alliances with Palestinians and Arabs are quite strong as well. Most Ethiopian-Jews are in the Israeli Army. Only a few Palestinians are actually Israel Citizens. Further, the Palestinians and non-Jews of Israeli descent are most likely to have a negative involvement with the armed forces. This is enough to result to tensions among the Ethiopian-Jews and other Palestinians and non-Jews. The ideal condition would be for them cooperating though. Due to the fact that racism is gaining moment in Israel any collaboration with non-Jews by the Ethiopian-Jews is bond to weaken the Ethiopian movement in the eyes of the Jewish Israelis religious nationalists. At the same time while encouraging racism against Africans and non-Jews can allow for some privileges for the Jewish Israelites the political strategy could be quite tempting for the Ethiopians. By any standard the Ethiopian Jews are the most disadvantaged among the Jewish Israelis5.

The Ethiopian women have been injected with birth control shots hence making it impossible for them to carry a pregnancy. The government has been blamed for the situation and the Ethiopian-Jewish protestors have called the move a genocide injection activity1. Obviously the obvious tension between Palestinians and the black Jews has made it impossible for them to form any meaningful collaboration. The pitfalls of each of these communities have made them consider themselves as some of the most violated groups[footnoteRef:6]. The divisions between the Ethiopians and Palestinians have remained persistent for decades although there are signs that this could soon come to an end1. [6: Zegeye, Abebe. (2008). The Beta Israel and the Impossible Return. ]

How does the issue affect one aspect of your country (i.e., quality of democracy, economy)?

This issue disturbs many aspects for the country simply because it is a social issue. As Avishai Baruch states, an Ethiopian officer of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), that he will never consider to serve again after the Israeli Police Commissioner accused that it is natural for his officers to assume that the 140,000 Ethiopian citizen neighborhoods are to be suspected for more crime (Gaffey & Moore, 2016).

Initially, this affects Israel socially. Many Ethiopians serve their time in the IDF; however, there are many times Ashkenazi Jew officers would undermine Ethiopian Jew officers. For example, in April of 2015, a video went viral of two Ashkenazi Jew police officers attack an Ethiopian IDF solider which caused a huge outcry in the two communities (Frantzman, 2015). In 2012, Ethiopian Jews protested the Knesset to denounce racism, and in 2016 have compared their movement to the American Black Lives Matter movement resembling to the police brutality in the United States (The New Arab, 2016).

Additionally, this issue has caused economic decay in the Ethiopian community. Disregarding the living conditions of Ethiopians in Israel, for 2019, the Israeli government initiated a budget cut from the Ethiopians under the immigration budget. In March of this year, Ethiopian Jews have threatened a hunger strike and protested the discrimination against Ethiopians. In 2015, after bringing 1300 Ethiopian citizens, the Israeli government promised to reunite the remaining Ethiopian families in Ethiopia who were unable to migrate; however, since then, the pledge has been on pause. As many as eight thousand Ethiopians have family already in Israel, after this budget cut, this has caused the Ethiopians remaining in Ethiopia no way out to join their families in Israel (The New Arab, 2018).

Lastly, there has been no Prime Minister of Israel of Ethiopian decent. Moreover, throughout the history of Ethiopians in Israel, Ethiopian women were forced to contribute to mandatory birth control before entering Israel and many were under a reputation of having diseased blood and/or AIDS, which led to health institutions in disposing of all donated blood by Ethiopian donors (Frantzman, 2014). The health ministry later confirmed the practice; however, denied allegations that the policy was aimed at limiting the growth of the Ethiopian population in Israel (Gaffey & Moore, 2016).

As elaborated by Gil Loescher, in chapter 18 (Human Rights and Forced Migration)[footnoteRef:7] of the book human rights: politics and practice forced migration represents the negative migration form that is often caused by exploitation, persecution, and development. Prohibiting forced migration is important for the purpose of preventing an instance where civilians become refugees. It has been evidenced that Israeli government has used the law to perpetuate and conceal acts of racism against Ethiopian-Jews. This has taken a toll on the democratic space of the Israeli community occasioning a lot of conflict, distrust, and discriminative legislative actions. A strained political environment works negatively for the economy. [7: Goodhart, Michael E. (2016). Human rights: politics and practice]

The explicit prohibition of forced displacement aims to prevent civilians from becoming refugees. On the other hand, international humanitarian law is relatively indifferent to the specific needs of refugees who are in the territory of a party to an armed conflict.

What do you suggest should be done to effectively address the issue?

Racism is a learned concept within society. Many studies have been conducted on how and why racism occurs; within human nature it has been seen that people are prejudice to outsiders. There are a variety of methods in preventing and eliminating racism which include education and tests. Enforcing all citizens to take courses and integrate within schools to minimize the amount of prejudice seen in society. Majority of time is spent at work or school; therefore, it is important to implement education on diversity in common areas to increase the understanding of unity and appreciation. These courses would include videos, seminars, interactive team-building, and communication among everyone. Also, implementing the equal opportunity rule; which is having the same number of Ethiopians as Israelis, as well as, highlighting that everyone should be able to work together without facing any problems. Conducting research through testing Israeli residence and citizens, most importantly, the employees of the government, will include interactive and social testing tactics to build trust and preparedness. The reason for specifying governmental personnel is due to the power which comes with governmental positions. This is not to discriminate against those that are more prejudice than others; however, it is to help officials relate, learn, and alter their mentality and other citizens as well.

Another method of effective change would be to include more Ethiopian Jews in the government. As of now, there are only two Ethiopian born Jews in the Knesset. As of 2015, no Ethiopian citizen has been a Minister in the 34th government in Israel (2015) . Though this is pictured to work with the 120 seat limit, the amount of first and second generation Ethiopian Jews in Israel has been increasing and their representation is limited. To elect more Ethiopian Jews into the government, increasing positions and opportunities is a target that must be set as a priority, aiming for Ethiopian rights. Simple examples include: international affairs, immigration, civil rights, and education. Though elections are very dependent on the citizens, in the Israeli law, it states anyone that is racist cannot elect in Knesset elections. Although this law is a fine representation of what Israel must build on, this is not an accurate representation to who cannot vote. Many are racist against Arabs, Ethiopians, or any immigrant living in Israel; thus, the law must be more specific to exclusions to voting.

Additionally, integration within the society must be enforced with the influence of the government through media and public influence. Media has become an essential part of society and through television shows, commercials, sports programs, and integrative influences, the Israeli citizens will be influenced and accepting to societally integrate with the Ethiopian Jews. When influencers are shown repetitively that a certain issue is accepted, by default society starts to change. In casting more Ethiopian actors, programs are showing viewers that Ethiopian citizens are accepted and welcomed in Israeli society. By including at least two Ethiopian actors in television shows, it builds a connection between viewers regardless of skin color which connects citizens in the outside world. Commercials and all other forms of advertisements have the ability to unify the citizens through ownership of similar products.

In sports, there are minimal Ethiopian athletes which causes a barrier between all athletes within the country. Athletics is a difficult field to enter for the general public; however, when an abundant amount of athletes that look different start to compete, it shows unification within the country, for the citizens and internationally. Sports influencers are judged off of performance rather than skin color or religion; thus, when citizens see different races excel in representation of Israel, it provides the connection and unification the country is in need of. Lastly, government officials are required to enforce the anti-racism laws. When enforcement emphasizes on equality and not undermine the Ethiopian law enforcement officers or disrespect Ethiopian citizens, other citizens will begin to respect their neighbors. Important influences such as celebrities must be open to integrating their work and respecting their coworkers to begin the cycle of positive treatment.

Israel is one of the few countries located in the Middle East which is democratized. For existing 70 years, the country has done much with their government and society; however, it still has a long way to go in order to maintain their power. With the increasing of Ethiopian immigrants, the country will have to continue to move forward in civil rights and an anti-racism stance within the government and society.

The persistent racism against the Ethiopian-Jews may also be quelled if the minorities and oppressed Ethiopian-Jews form alliances with non-Jews, and Palestinians who have suffered long in the hands of the Israeli government and the white Jewish supremacists1. It is a known fact that racism against immigrants of African descent into Israel is mostly motivated not by the desire to enforce the law and protect the territorial integrity of the country but by the selfish, discriminative and racist ideological perspective perpetuated by the Israeli government. The transition of the Ethiopian Jews from black Ethiopians to Black Jews entailed a change in the construct of the Ethiopian migrants5. This was for both the host society and the migrant community alike. Racial hierarchies in Israel and the slave versus master mentality have dominated the racist ideology in Israel. The solution for this is to restructure the social construct and build awareness on the need to have a cohesive society built on the foundation of equality on all aspects including education, housing, human rights, and social justice.

Multiculturalism is another avenue through which racism can be defeated in Israel. The solution is to build a culture based on separation and diversity as Ben-Eliezer (2008) would have it[footnoteRef:8]. The creation of a national identity is essential to the Israeli community. Israeli immigrants should be assimilated and trained to synchronize with the dominating culture through abandoning or loosening their traditions and particular/specific cultures. Cultural communities and associations based on no single dominant culture can be useful in alleviating the entitlement mentality among the dominant culture in Israel therefore helping in the alleviation of racism. [8: Ben-Eliezer, U. (2008). Multicultural society and everyday cultural racism: Second generation of Ethiopian Jews in Israels crisis of modernization.]






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