Value Us, Don’t Discriminate

June 9, 2015

By Yarden Fanta-Vagenshtein

I am proud to be an Ethiopian-Israeli black woman, yet I am angry and disappointed at what is going on with Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Israel is my home and I owe my life to Israel and the Jews around the world who enabled me to be airlifted, in 1985, from the Sudan desert by the Israeli Air Force.

As Ethiopian Jews, our ancestors dreamt of going to the "Promised Land of the Jews" for 2,500 years. To get there, we crossed the desert on foot, sacrificing our lives to be with our fellow Jews in the Holy Land.

Yet, now in Israel, we find ourselves in a different fight. In the Ethiopian village, we knew whom we were fighting against. And, we had solutions. We could insulate ourselves as a community. Our family could work on our own fields; use our own Jewish community blacksmiths, weavers and potters. If our neighbors didn't like us, we could live in a Jewish village.

In Israel, we are all in the same region, but we, the 135,000 Ethiopians in Israel, are a different color. It seems that a difference in color is what makes it different for Ethiopian Jews to live in certain places, get certain jobs or ride a bus proudly without stares.

We feel surrounded by injustice and discrimination. Like a pressure cooker under a rug, it burst out in an aggressive protest last month, triggered by an event caught in the lens of the camera where an innocent Ethiopian soldier in uniform, serving his country, was beaten brutally by Israeli police officers. How could this happen?

What is most painful for me is that the young generation of Ethiopians, born and raised in Israel, educated and serving in the Army like everybody else, needs to go through this unacceptable discrimination.

These young people are assets who can empower Israel to deal with its many challenges, but instead young Ethiopian Israelis are waging their own war of survival. Instead of using young people as a driving force for the State of Israel, young Ethiopian Israelis are fighting for basic justice. This kind of discrimination should not happen in any country, but certainly not in Israel, a state that was created by and for the Jewish people.

Yarden Fanta-Vagenshtein is a research associate at HBI and senior research associate at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, Brandeis University. Her research areas are cross-culturalism, gender, immigration, knowledge and cognition in context.