Ethiopian immigrants  - AP - 02112011
Ethiopian immigrants at the Israeli Embassy in 1991. Photo by AP
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A ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of Operation Solomon, in which over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel in 36 hours, will take place tonight with the participation of Ethiopian community leaders, President Shimon Peres, Absorption Minister Sofa Landver and other government officials.

The ceremony will highlight the achievements of the Ethiopian community over the past 20 years.

According to the Absorption Ministry, some 90 projects with a combined budget of about NIS 80 million currently provide assistance to the Ethiopian community.

But despite impressive initial achievements, Ethiopian immigrants lag behind immigrants from other countries who arrived here at the same time, according to a study by the Brookdale Institute published in 2010.

The report found that after making great strides in employment, income, housing, education and other areas in the 1990s, their progress slowed around a decade ago, except for two areas: The school dropout rate continued to fall, and more women joined the workforce.

For example, the unemployment rate is 14 percent, double that of the overall Jewish population, and 65 percent of Ethiopians are defined as poor, as opposed to 15 percent of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and 23 percent of veteran Israelis.

Moreover, Ethiopians' matriculation grades have gone down over the last 10 years compared to the 1990s.

Brookdale Institute director Prof. Jack Habib, who headed the study, said the community failed to continue progressing because of "environmental factors characteristic of the 1990s," which began with an economic slump and the first intifada and continued with cuts to defense and education.

Additionally, he said, the massive aid provided by Diaspora Jews in the 1990s ran out.

But MK Shlomo Molla, deputy speaker of the Knesset, who was in charge of Ethiopian immigration for the Jewish Agency in 1999-2006, said that "Ethiopian immigrants get three times as much funding as other immigrants and native-born Israelis." The problem, he said, is that the money is spent on jobs and salaries instead of being "invested wisely in projects that encourage excellence."