This post is written by a member of the Messianic community in Israel or guest contributor. The opinions and views expressed are solely those of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of Kehila News Israel.

Is Israel’s government doing enough to fight racism?

The Citizen’s Empowerment Center, an Israeli good governance NGO, has found that a number of anti-racism measures recommended by the Ministry of Justice in 2016 have yet to be implemented.

At the same time, Knesset Member Avraham Neguise, who is himself of Ethiopian descent, has attested that significant progress in fighting racism has actually been made since last year. The Justice Ministry released its recommendations after Israelis of Ethiopian descent took to the streets of Tel Aviv in 2015 to protest racism and police brutality against their community.

Although the Israeli government was instrumental in bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel by actively seeking them out and airlifting them from Ethiopia to Israel in the 1980 and ’90s, the community has faced great challenges assimilating, this even after a generation of Israeli-born Ethiopian Jews has now grown up here.

Time Magazine reported that in 2015 the Tebeka–Advocacy for Equality and Justice for Ethiopian Israelis was receiving over 1,000 complaints of discrimination and abuse a year.

“When an Ethiopian applies for a job, as qualified as he might be, as impressive as his CV might be, he is not going to be invited for the interview because he has an Ethiopian name,” Time quoted Assefa-Dawit, executive director of Tebeka, as saying.

“When a local rabbinate office refuses to register a couple who wants to get married because they’re Ethiopian, when you see a school that says we cannot take more children because they have a quota of how many Ethiopians they will enroll, you can imagine what the feeling of young people will be,” Assefa-Dawit added.

On May 3, 2015 a mass rally of Israeli Ethiopians took place in Tel Aviv after a CCTV video came to light showing two white police officers beating up Damas Pakada, a young Israeli Ethiopian soldier who was wearing his IDF uniform.

The video followed the previous year’s tragedy in which Yosef Salamsa, a young Israeli Ethiopian, committed suicide after police shot him with a stun gun and left him outside Zichron Yaakov police station in northern Israel.

In response, the government convened a committee headed by Justice Ministry Director General Emi Palmor, whose task was to find ways of eradicating racism against the Ethiopian Israeli community. The committee produced the Palmor report which listed 53 recommendations in the areas of law enforcement, employment, education and welfare.

Twenty-two of the Palmor report recommendations were due to have been implemented by March this year. However, the Citizen’s Empowerment Center says 17 of these have still not been acted upon.

The Jerusalem Post reports that among the recommendations remaining to be implemented are: “conducting a poll among civil servants to detect problems of a discriminatory organizational climate, providing incentives for schools to have students do projects based on dealing with racism, and producing public service announcements to fight racism against Ethiopian-Israelis.”

However, Neguise, who is the Likud chairman of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, told the Jerusalem Post that the situation is better than it may appear.

Neguise, the only Ethiopian Israeli in the Knesset, told the Post that there has been a “serious decrease” in police brutality against his community. Neguise also said there has been a reduction in “false claims against citizens by police officers.”

One of the Palmor recommendations was for police officers to be fitted with body cameras, and some 150 of these have already been distributed to officers to learn how to use them. Pilot studies on the effectiveness of the cameras have been launched in five cities.

The IDF has acknowledged the need for anti-racism measures and closed its special program for Ethiopian Israelis because it had led to segregation. Moreover, the government met its 2016 target in hiring 80 Ethiopian Israelis into the civil service last year, and has hired a further 73 in 2017 already.

Neguise told the Post that almost all the major ministries have allocated funds for fighting racism. In particular, the Ministry of Education has been given 162 million shekels for training and employing Israeli Ethiopian teachers.

However, Neguise did note that the Ministry of Health was not acting quickly enough to implement anti-racist public health programs.

Keeping pressure on the government to implement the remaining necessary measures without delay, the Citizens Empowerment Center has written to the government saying: “Delaying the set schedule could lead to the undermining of the community of Ethiopian origin’s trust and will create doubts about [the plan’s] possible success in light of the failures of past, similar plans.”

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Karen Faulkner
Karen Faulkner recently completed a Master's degree in Human Rights and Transitional Justice at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. She made Aliyah in 2006 and lives in Jerusalem.

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