About a year ago, the world was captivated by the news of police brutality in Israel. A young Ethiopian-Israeli soldier, Damas Pakada was beaten by a policeman, and the world heard. Articles claimed that Israel is a racist state. Videos screamed that Israel cares little for black lives. Social media erupted with hatred of Israel and its racist society without bothering to examine the facts.
The fact is that there is racism in Israeli society. There is no easy way to get around that, and I would hate to sugarcoat the truth. That said, every single society in the world has racism — from the United States to France to Morocco — and to single Israel out for its problems is unfair, anti-Semitic and discriminatory.
The Ethiopian Jewish population in Israel consists of about 135,000, some 14,000 of whom were airlifted to Israel during Operation Solomon 25 years ago, when Israel carried out an operation to rescue Ethiopian Jews. Since then, great progress has been made.
Also note that Operation Solomon was the first time in history where a Western country “imported” Africans to liberate them instead of enslaving them.
Many hateful articles and videos seeking to delegitimize Israel focus exclusively on the negative — how more Ethiopian families live under the poverty line, work as unskilled laborers and do not receive university diplomas compared to the Israeli average. These publications neglect to mention, however, how much progress has been made.
Remember, also, how disproportionately these sites focus on Israeli problems, doing a huge disservice to other minority groups suffering around the world.
In twelve years, the percentage of Ethiopian students receiving a general matriculation diploma has gone up from 31% to 48%. For men, employment rates have risen from 62% to 73%; for women, from 37% to 69%. There have been several Ethiopian-Israeli members of the Knesset, an Ethiopian-Israeli Miss Israel, and Ethiopian-Israeli television presenters. Bringing a population from rural Africa, with no higher education and little modern technology, to a Western nation is no small feat — and to see such incredible results in just 25 years is remarkable.
Much of the media, however, chooses to only see the failures of the Israeli community to combat racism. When private Haredi educational institutions refused to take Ethiopian students, the Israeli government stopped funding them. When Damas Pakada was beaten, Police Chief Yochanan Danino established a special delegation to examine the Ethiopian community’s complaints and to find solutions to the problems. Yes — there is racism. But there is also a tremendous amount of action and hope.
What never ceases to astound me is the abundance of black student unions that are against Israel. While there is a natural tendency to oppose Israel in light of the police brutality case that came forward last year, participating students should also remember that Israel is constantly seeking to improve the status of its Ethiopian (and other African) citizens. In fact, the first non-Jewish Sudanese asylum seeker was just granted refugee status, and Ugandan converts to Judaism were also recently granted the right to come to Israel under the Right of Return.
Here is just one example of what Black Student Unions write against Israel: “10,000s of African Jews migrate to Israel to escape the Christian and Islamic persecution of their fellow Africans. But when they arrive in Israel, the Zionists and Israeli residents harass the immigrants physically and mentally, the same as the continent they left.” (Black Student Union at South Oregon University)
As previously stated, huge progress has been made. Ethiopian-Israelis have certainly experienced challenges in Israel, but over the course of 25 years, have made huge strides. Contrast that with the embarrassingly long time that it took for the United States to grant African-Americans equal rights. African-Americans were only granted the right to vote in 1965, 189 years after the country’s founding.
We must stand with Israel in its quest to become a state that enshrines equal rights for all. It has a long way still to go in its fight for Ethiopian-Israeli rights, but its progress is undeniable. Black student unions, as well as all those concerned with minority rights, should support Israel in its long-standing battle against racism and its undeniable strides in the direction of equality for its Ethiopian citizens.
Contributed by CAMERA Fellow at Princeton University Leora Eisenberg.