Livneh illustration - Ofer - jan 2012
Illustration by Avi Ofer
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"Unbelievable." That's what everyone is saying now. It's unbelievable that in Kiryat Malakhi people are refusing to sell homes to members of the Ethiopian community. Unbelievable that a driver from the Barazani Company who buses kids to school told children from the Ethiopian community that they smell. And unbelievable that one of the schoolgirls said there were also "Israelis" on the same bus - as opposed to her and her "Ethiopian" friends, who are not white and therefore not Israelis.

But our cries of "unbelievable," which apparently reflect absolute revulsion at the phenomenon of racism and utter abhorrence of its proponents, are just as unbelievable. Time after time we are shocked, as though racism against Jews of Ethiopian origin were something new and surprising. Between periods of shock, we both ignore their existence and the existence of the problem.

It's unbelievable that after so many years of living in our midst, we haven't yet begun to integrate the Ethiopian Jews. When they first arrived, racism was disguised under the cloak of doubts expressed by religious bodies about their Jewishness, and by providers of social services about their ability to function in a Western society.

But in the spirit of present-day Israel, the racism has for some time been as overt as it is ugly. In the light of this, it is clearly unbelievable that the minister of immigrant absorption thinks Ethiopian Jews should say thank you to the state for having made every possible mistake during their absorption process. True, the minister herself, Sofa Landver, has every reason to be grateful to the state, as she recommends for the Ethiopians: Her integration was smooth, above and beyond all expectations.

The same can be said about the integration of many of those from her same diaspora community, who even established a political party with a racist cast, with its target generally being Arabs. But anti-Arab racism is actually believable. After all, it has long since become a legitimate element in Knesset debates. When did the Knesset last establish a special committee to consider the ongoing discrimination against Israel's Arabs? Yet what's still really unbelievable is how many times Arab children have heard themselves being called primitive and smelly. And how many times Palestinian women have heard self-righteous settler women call them tramps. There is a law on the books against incitement to racism, but racism is still the bon ton in certain segments of our society.

It would be interesting to know how many Ethiopian friends the minister of immigrant absorption has. The truth is that I don't have any, nor do my children who, throughout all their combined years in the nation's school system, met a single gifted female Ethiopian student - the exception that proves the rule.

The reason we do not have Ethiopian friends is that we have no place to meet them. Instead of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry helping them integrate in socially diverse neighborhoods, the housing grant they get from the ministry enables them to live only in the weakest areas - those neighborhoods that were previously inhabited by people from the lowest socioeconomic stratum, before they fled for their lives to better areas. The result is schools where almost all the students are of Ethiopian origin - and at the same time, schools which on various pretexts do not agree to accept children from the Ethiopian community.

But even if by some miracle a government were to be formed that would aim to redress the wrongs being done to the Ethiopian Jews, and even if we had a minister of immigrant absorption who knew what she was talking about, the members of the Ethiopian community would still face an intractable problem. Names can be changed, accents hidden, but not skin color. That means they remain different in a society that is becoming increasingly racist, because it is based on religious values which hold that the Jews are superior to goyim, that men are superior to women and that whites are superior to blacks.

Racism is overtly felt in Haredi society. For the ultra-Orthodox, men are worth more than women, Ashkenazim more than Sephardim. The pedigree of some Haredi yeshivas and colleges is measured in inverse proportion to the number of Sephardim they accept. Even the leaders of Shas, a party ostensibly established to prevent discrimination against Mizrahi Jews (of Middle Eastern and North African origin ) ostensibly accept the assumption that Ashkenazim are superior and, accordingly, send their children to yeshivas with a low proportion of Sephardim. And they too, who are supposedly sensitive to color-based discrimination, are blind when it comes to discrimination against those with a different skin color.

But the attitude of "traditionals" (those who adopt religious beliefs in place of superstitions ) and "seculars" toward the Ethiopian immigrants is no better. And it makes no difference whether this takes the form of people who don't understand what's wrong with saying that "Ethiopians smell" - or who just ignore Ethiopian Jews, as do most people, whose main contact with members of that community is at the security post at the entrance to malls. All that will happen unless the Ethiopian in question is some beautiful young woman who appears on "A Star Is Born" (Israel's "American Idol" ), has no accent at all and wins the contest - with God's help, of course.

That's because God, in case you didn't know, has been holding down a full-time job on a reality program, and devotes his little remaining time to soccer games and other arenas where someone, with his help, of course, is trying to win over someone else. Turn on the TV these days and you will find that it's on the most inferior programs that the greatness of the divine entity referred to as "Hashem" is revealed. I have to say that I have had enough of him, and even more of the way he is used as an amulet that gives those who invoke him some sort of advantage with the judges. For example, on "The Voice," this can probably be of enormous help to a candidate who launches into his performance - in a competition in which the candidates are supposed to be anonymous until the end of the song - with a prayer to God. Hats off to God, there's no one like him. Three cheers for the creator of the world.

In any event, if he does exist, it seems as if he's a pretty big racist.