While the last several thousand Falash Mura — Ethiopians with Jewish roots — in Africa await entry into the Promised Land, Ethiopian Jews already in Israel took to the country’s streets last week to protest what they consider growing signs of racism.
In protest marches to Jerusalem, and at rallies at several sites in the capital, thousands of Ethiopian Jews showed their anger over incidents that have galvanized their community: a school bus driver who reportedly told young Ethiopians that they “smell bad,” tenants in Kiryat Malachi who agreed not to sell or rent their apartments to Israelis of Ethiopian descent, an announcement that the authority of the community’s traditional kessim religious leaders would no longer be recognized. And, most recently, a report by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry that Ethiopian immigrants with college degrees earn only half as much as native-born Israelis with similar degrees.
“A new consciousness has arisen among us, and it will remain,” activist Gadi Barkan told Haaretz.
More than 119,000 Ethiopians live in Israel, 38,000 of them Israeli-born. They say that Israel’s black citizens encounter little overt discrimination, but feel less accepted than émigrés from the former Soviet Union or other Western countries.
The signs they carried last week bore such messages as “I’m black and proud” and “Blacks and Whites: We’re All Equal.” The marcher above, his face painted symbolically black and white, was part of a group on its way east to Jerusalem from Latrun.
“Ethiopians are the first victims of racism,” Knesset Member Shlomo Molla, himself an Ethiopian Jew, said, “but the problem afflicts the entire nation.”