Outgoing Minister Sofa Landver Agrees There Is Racism in Israel. Against Her.

The minister of absorption explains why her voice was not heard during the protests by Ethiopian Israelis.

Tomer Appelbaum

Greetings, Minister of Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were aflame in recent weeks due to the protests by Israelis of Ethiopian origin, and your voice was not heard. Let’s talk about this for a moment – after all, you have been in charge of immigrant absorption.

Listen, this is not a protest by new immigrants. This is a protest by people who were born here and don’t feel part of the society. I was once at a lecture facing an auditorium full of immigrants. Only one of them, when asked who he was, said “an Israeli.”

I understand the idea, but are they correct in their claims?

It’s heartbreaking.

Totally. So what is the ministry doing for them?

The Absorption Ministry does not deal with an immigrant’s problems all his life. Maximum 15 years. This is a ministry that deals with immigrants up to a certain limit.

I see. And during those 15 years does the Absorption Ministry do a good job? From outside, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Listen, my door is always open.

Is an open door enough?

Listen, I am getting cursed by them. This has hurt me. But I did everything so they could get here. We did a lot. I’ve tried to swallow my tears at events when people of Ethiopian origin raised their voices and shouted at me unjustly. The other night I didn’t sleep. Now my Facebook page is full of curses and threats. But I understand them. They aren’t accepted in society.

Why isn’t the society accepting them?

I’ll ask you in return: How is it possible that there are classes only for immigrants?

Funny. I’m asking you that.

How is it possible that when they are conscripted into the army they put them together in a group of [other] people with origins in Ethiopia?

Are there units made up entirely of soldiers of Ethiopian origin in the army? Where does this happen?

In pre-army courses.

Well, that’s a relief. You had me scared. And what about the attitude of the police toward them?

I do not accept [the claim] that the police treat them with contempt. But it’s hard to argue with a person’s feelings.

What about the education system, really?

All around the country there are classes in which there isn’t a single Ethiopian immigrant. How does this happen? After all, they should be treated the same as you and me.

It’s you who are the absorption minister. Are you asking me?

Show me how many people of Ethiopian origin there are working in government offices ... People of Ethiopian origin have to be a part – a part of everything. They have to be a part of Israeli society. They have to be accepted to all places of work. Not just in cleaning or dirty work.

Strong words. So why have you been keeping silent? Because of what people said on Facebook?

Sometimes they hurt me beyond belief. But I managed things for them. I am the minister for everyone. No immigrant from Ethiopia who applied to me for help ever got a refusal.

So what in fact does the ministry do if most of the people of Ethiopian origin, in your opinion, are no longer entitled to its services?

Today we greet an immigrant at the airport and we give him an immigrant ID and an Israeli identity card. We give them the opportunity to choose a bank and a health maintenance organization. We are welcoming immigrants like they’ve never been welcomed before. And also we started a program for people of Ethiopian origin in partnership with people from the community – there were 1,500 people sitting around the round table. For the purpose of this issue, we brought 12 government ministries together for the first time.

So it’s just that the people of Ethiopian origin don’t like you?

Listen, it’s definitely racism.

Interesting.

To write about me that a Russian minister can’t understand them? Who can see to immigrants’ welfare better than I can?

I don’t know how to answer that.

Here’s a story: A man who was an executive in Ethiopia contacted me and told me that his daughter received a toy and then they suddenly told him he was not entitled to immigrate to Israel, they took him off the plane and they took the doll away from the little girl. I contacted everyone involved and I did everything I could so that this person would get to the State of Israel. And at a conference of ministry employees, I brought him onto the stage and I gave him back the doll. Do you know why I am telling you this?

Not really.

Because I am sensitive. I came into the ministry to be the mouthpiece for the immigrants.

With all due respect, it doesn’t appear that they see you as their mouthpiece.

No, no, no. What is happening today on my Facebook page is about a group that hasn’t found where to direct its anger, and I’m taking the beating. There isn’t a single immigrant who applied to me for aid and didn’t get it.

So the bottom line: The Absorption Ministry did well by the immigrants from Ethiopia.

I know what I did. I can’t speak for other ministers.

Of course you can.

Listen, there is no arguing with a person’s feelings. Apparently there was neglect. But I don’t want to criticize anyone.

So what will happen to them?

We care about this community, this wonderful community.

Let’s talk politics: Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman has announced that the party would not be joining the next government. Are you ready for life in the opposition?

I’m a fighter. I am capable of fighting for principles. I was elected to serve the public. I will also serve in the opposition too. Listen, we aren’t here for the portfolios. We are here for the principles. The prime minister has relinquished all our achievements. The government has to serve all the citizens of Israel.

Apropos that and apropos racism: that includes Arabs too, right?

Listen, I’m the minister of absorption. I can talk about that.

I mean in general. With respect to rights.

You know exactly what the Yisrael Beiteinu platform is.

Clearly. That’s why I’m asking.

That isn’t my subject and I don’t want to answer.