Olmert: Ethiopian Jews Are Right to Feel Discriminated Against

PM tells cabinet at weekly meeting that 'we must change the reality in which Ethiopians feel they've been wronged.'

"Ethiopian Jews' feeling that they have been wronged is not detached from reality, a reality that we must change," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday.

At the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, Olmert spoke about the discrimination against Ethiopian-born students, referring to a recent discovery that four Ethiopian girls had been forced to study in complete isolation at a Petah Tikva religious school.

"These stories compound the general distress felt by the Ethiopian children and the Ethiopian population within the Israeli society," the prime minister said, adding that this feeling is not devoid of truth, and is not isolated to a certain part of the country. "There are problems and there are hardships. This coming January we will approve a new wide ranging program aimed at resolving some of the issues facing Ethiopian Jewry," he said.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni also addressed the issue, saying "this is not a problem confined to the four girls who emigrated from Ethiopia."

Livni, who served as absorption minister in the past, maintains close ties with the Ethiopian community in Israel. She added that "there is an entire phenomenon of pure racism in the hiring of Ethiopian immigrants in the job market and the renting of homes to them. This discrimination forced them to concentrate in certain neighborhoods and harmed their integration."

On Saturday, Ethiopian immigrants disrupted a Petah Tikva school board ceremony meant to honor excellent employees. The immigrants were protesting the fact that the ceremony was being held precisely during the same week that the discrimination against the four young girls was revealed.

Dozens of demonstrators arrived at the Petah Tikva cultural center and took over the stage, waving protest signs and shouting their objections, preventing the ceremony from taking place.

Consequently, the Petah Tikva municipality decided to cancel the ceremony.