In Meeting With Jewish Ethiopian Community, Netanyahu Vows to Tackle Racism

Activists cite segregation at schools as an urgent problem and demanded sanctions be imposed on schools that refuse to enroll students of Ethiopian origin.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Wednesday for the first time with Ethiopian community activists who demanded an end to racism and discrimination in education, housing and jobs.

Netanyahu promised to put them in touch with the respective government officials to devise a comprehensive plan to tackle these issues.

Ilan Assayag

"I called this meeting because I'm attuned to the needs of the Jewish-Ethiopian community," the prime minister told the delegation which included social activists and community religious leaders. "One thing that I cannot accept is racism; I was shocked by it," said Netanyahu. "On the other hand, I'm happy to see that we're intent on addressing these issues."

The group cited segregation at schools as an urgent problem and demanded that sanctions be imposed on schools that refuse to enroll students of Ethiopian origin or discriminate against them.

"We see what's going on in schools - this segregation has got to stop permanently," said Efrat Yarday, spokesperson for Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews. "We know the Ministry of Education is doing an excellent job, but its decisions must be implemented. Local authorities ignore them and perpetuate the segregation. We are asking to make sure that the parents' voice be heard and that people of Ethiopian origin have a say in these decisions that greatly affect their lives."

The delegates also raised the issue of the relatively small number of university graduates who work in skilled labor. They called for the creation of empowerment schemes that would increase their chances of finding skilled jobs.

On the housing front, they said young couples of Ethiopian origin are unable to capitalize on the benefits they are entitled to, since they do not have the minimal budget to claim them. Also, they said, these benefits only apply to particular municipalities, which contributes to the creation of ghettos.

Among the activists was Molat Araro, who went on a three-day march from Kiryat Malakhi to Jerusalem in January to protest the refusal of Kiryat Malakhi residents to rent apartments to Ethiopian Israelis. Also present were the organizers of the tent protest held opposite the Prime Minister's house following the Kiryat Malakhi incident.