Israel’s Absorption of Ethiopian Jews a Failure – Scathing Report

Ethiopian Jews
Members of the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel

AFRICANGLOBE – Israel’s absorption of Ethiopian Jews is a failure, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira said in a scathing report released today.

According to Ynet, in 2001, the Government of Israel announced a special 9-year $660-million absorption program for the approximately 130,000 Ethiopian Jews then in Israel.

But since 2005, government ministries have allocated only a tiny amount of the money – an annual average of approximately $6 million, only about 8% of the amount they should have spent.

This means Ethiopian Jews – most of whom came from small rural town and villages that have remained largely unchanged for centuries – did not get the services and support they need to acclimate to Israeli society.

The ripple effect of this failure is large.

Adults, especially males, find it very difficult to find jobs.

Poverty is rampant. Unemployment is very high.

The majority of working Ethiopian Jews hold low-paid menial jobs.

Financial strain causes family discord and contributes to family violence.

Ethiopian students graduate at a lower rate than other students.

The Ministry of Education did fund a program to help Ethiopian students pass matriculation exams, but it was so poorly structured and so poorly implemented that it reached only a minority of the students who needed it, and when it reached them, it reached them badly and did not meet the needs of the students.

Ethiopian Jews
Ethiopian Jews are stripped of their identity and forced to learn Ashkenazi Judaism

Ethiopian students who do well in school and go on to earn advanced degrees often find themselves unemployed or vastly underemployed anyway. (For example, two years ago several Ethiopians with professional degrees were working as security guards because companies did not want to hire Ethiopian Jews.) The rate of college dropouts among Ethiopian Jews is 9% higher than it is among the rest of the population, in part because of this.

Ethiopian Jews are highly motivated to enlist in the Israeli Defense Force and many serve with distinction. Even so, more than 20% of Ethiopian soldiers failed to complete their service in 2010 because of their “serious misbehavior.”

Of the soldiers incarcerated during 2010, a large number were Ethiopian and the Ethiopian absenteeism and desertion rate was three times higher than the overall IDF rate. Shapira wrote that this data should “light a social alarm.”

Ethiopian Jews Stripped of Their Identity

“The findings of this report indicate that, despite the considerable efforts of government agencies and the third sector [nonprofits] to promote Ethiopian Israelis, the gap between them and the rest of the population remains a considerable one,” Shapira concluded.

A factor that appears to have been missed by the comptroller is the destruction of Ethiopian Jewish culture and religion by Israel’s haredi and Orthodox rabbinate, which delegitimized the Ethiopian community’s traditional religious leaders.

Additionally, a large majority of the Ashkenazi rabbinate not only rejected Ethiopian Jews’ Judaism – they rejected Ethiopian Jews very Jewishness, sometimes even after Ethiopian Jews went through Orthodox conversion ceremonies.

Israeli schools also do not teach Ethiopian Jewish history or culture, and few books, movies or TV shows positively depicting Ethiopian Jews exist while anti-Ethiopian racism is widespread.

All of this leaves Ethiopian Jews in limbo, still strangers in their own home.


By: Shmarya Rosenberg