by Simon Plosker
It seems that Israel can never do right. At least, that’s the impression given by the following sensationalist headline in The Times of London:
The immediate impression is one of abandonment. Instead of a story celebrating the remarkable and unprecedented in-gathering of Ethiopian Jewry by Israel over the past decades, readers are assaulted with a story of neglect and failure.
Firstly, the headline itself is misleading. It is not Ethiopian Jews who have been unable to immigrate to Israel but some members of the Falash Mura – Ethiopian Jews who had converted to Christianity generations ago. While the status of the Falash Mura is complicated, ultimately Israel decided to bring them to Israel out of humanitarian concerns and to reunite family members of Ethiopian Jews already in Israel.
The incredible feat of bringing over 90,000 Black Africans to Israel is not presented by The Times’ Catherine Philp as an Israeli humanitarian gesture but one driven by cold self-interest:
Amid demographic concerns about the low Israeli Jewish birthrate compared with Israel’s Arab citizens, the airlifts resumed in 2003, with 300 Ethiopians making the journey each month.
Assimilation into Israeli society, however, has proved hugely difficult. Many of the original Beta Israel migrants were astonished to discover that their supposed Hebrew brethren were white, not black, and they were unprepared for the discrimination they met.
As rural Africans, many Ethiopians have been ill-equipped to enter the job market. Unemployment among them runs at more than 60 per cent.
The Havate family’s situation is typical of many. Two years after she arrived, Mr Havate’s mother, Azeneg, cannot speak a word of Hebrew and has no non-Ethiopian friends. She and her family still live in the absorption centre outside Jerusalem where they were first housed.
While there have undoubtedly been enormous difficulties absorbing such a population into Israeli society, which nobody denies, perhaps Philp could have interviewed officials from the Jewish Agency or other bodies that have dedicated themselves to assisting Ethiopian Jews in Israel.
And what about the success stories?
Evidence of the acceptance of the Ethiopian community in Israel could be seen this year as Ethiopian-born model Tahunia Rubel, 25, won Israel’s Big Brother while Ethiopian immigrant Yityish (Titi) Aynaw, 21, was crowned Miss Israel 2013. Glass ceilings have been broken with Ethiopian Members of Knesset, IDF officers and the recent appointment of the first ever Israeli ambassador of Ethiopian descent.
Even if the integration of Ethiopian Jewry has not been a resounding success, it appears that Philp has produced a one-sided and negative story that turns a potentially positive aspect of Israel into a decidedly negative one.
Is it a coincidence that The Times also published a story by Philp with the same date stamp as the Ethiopian one with this headline and story?
Is there a theme to these two stories, a thread portraying Israel as a country that mistreats Africans? It isn’t a step too far before Israel is presented as a racist country.
The issue of illegal immigration and the struggle to balance human rights against the need to prevent open borders is something that many Western nations are grappling with, including the U.S., UK, Western Europe and Australia. In the Israeli context, it is made all the more acute by the unique security situation and the tiny size of a country that cannot be expected to grant asylum to every African looking for a better life. (It is, of course, necessary to distinguish between economic migrants and those who are genuinely fleeing persecution.)
So why single out Israel for special treatment?
Putting these two articles together might give us an answer.
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Image Credit: CC BY-SA David Bicchetti/Wikimedia Commons.
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