The Israel Defense Forces has started closing programs that were set up specifically for Ethiopian-Israeli soldiers. The move follows protests by the Ethiopian community about such courses, which they said served only to increase their isolation in Israeli society.
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Last week, a program conducted during high school – within the framework of the IDF’s premilitary youth unit – for students of Ethiopian descent was closed. Another program set to close soon is a course provided to Ethiopian soldiers shortly before they complete their army service, intended to help prepare them for civilian life.
All these programs were part of a government plan to help Ethiopian Israelis integrate successfully into Israeli society. Last year, a course designed to help Ethiopian-Israeli soldiers prepare for their service in field units was also closed. Instead, they are now placed in a preparatory course intended for all immigrant soldiers.
The Defense Ministry has plans to improve all programs that aim to prepare future soldiers, and to increase the quotas for programs for those who want to spend a year doing civilian public service before being drafted, as well as increasing the numbers in premilitary preparatory programs.
These decisions will be announced officially in the near future, and the Defense Ministry’s division for social affairs will hold meetings to hear the public’s views on the upcoming changes.
The main document outlining the proposed policy changes states: “The answers will be provided according to soldiers’ needs and their specific abilities – not automatically and collectively.”
Until now, soldiers of Ethiopian origin have been automatically channeled into courses and special programs based only on their ethnic origin. For example, even after serving at, say, Army Radio or sensitive posts in intelligence, prior to their release from the military, Ethiopian-Israeli soldiers found themselves sent to courses intended solely for Ethiopians, even though they spent their entire service with soldiers from the cross-section of Israeli society.
The Ethiopian-Israeli community has taken to the streets in recent months to protest its treatment, with leaders of the movement citing the closure of the army courses as a major goal. Community representatives fought for the cancellation of the courses in various meetings with the government, enlisting former Yesh Atid MK Pnina Tamano-Shata to their cause. They claim that courses intended specifically and only for soldiers of Ethiopian descent increase their isolation in society, and now the military has also reached the same conclusion.
“My view is that we must not segregate, except if the separation is specific and with the soldier’s agreement. The aim is to help the soldier integrate,” a senior officer in the Education Corps told Haaretz. “The goal is equality. Not just equal opportunity, but for them to feel like everyone else,” he added.