State Comptroller's Annual Report |

Israel's Absorption of Ethiopian Immigrants Rife With Failures, Comptroller Report Shows

In his first annual report, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira points at a whopping 51.7% of Israel's Ethiopian-immigrant families and 65% of the community’s children still live in poverty. Other parts of the report cite irregularities in the conversion and the marriage systems, and severe gaps in medical services across the country.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Efforts by the authorities to help Ethiopian immigrants advance over the years have not been very successful, the State Comptroller's Office said in a chapter of its latest report dedicated to Israel's absorption of this Jewish community.

According to the state watchdog agency, 51.7 percent of Israel's Ethiopian-immigrant families and 65 percent of the community’s children still live in poverty.

In 2010 more than 20 percent of Israel Defense Forces conscripts of Ethiopian origin were discharged before completing their mandatory service, most of them for "extremely bad conduct."

The proportion of Ethiopian soldiers who were jailed that year was double the general average, and the rate of absenteeism and desertions was triple that of IDF soldiers overall.

Of particular concern is the fact that these figures did not improve in the past decade.

According to an analysis by the comptroller's office, many programs targeting the Ethiopian immigrant community failed, for various reasons. The report cites four different projects aimed at helping Ethiopian high-school students to pass the matriculation (bagrut) exams that were operated in parallel, with no coordination, by both the Education Ministry and by the Immigration and Absorption Ministry.

In some instances, the watchdog found, two such programs were conducted in the same schools at the same time.

"As a result overhead costs were doubled, and some of the funds intended for bagrut enrichment went to pay additional officials, without the Education Ministry checking whether these overheads could have been reduced and more resources directed at teaching," the report said.

In certain cases, auditors discovered, students were enrolled in two supplemental courses in the same subject, taught by two different teachers in two different programs.

The comptroller's office also uncovered what appeared to be irregular reporting by the nonprofit organizations operating the programs. "The lack of data raises concerns that the Immigrant Absorption Ministry paid for activities, not all of which took place," the report said. It also noted that the Education Ministry does not have a master list of all students who are of Ethiopian origin.

A separate program ostensibly helped Ethiopian-immigrant families to obtain mortgages with comfortable terms. Yet during the four years examined, only two families took advantage of the program. Potential beneficiaries of the program were deterred by the high interest rates and housing cost.

Although the ministries involved were aware of these issues, no changes were made to the program to make it more attractive.

The comptroller also found double funding by the defense and the immigrant absorption ministries of higher education aid funds for Ethiopian immigrants. Other programs, such as one aimed at keeping soldiers from the community out of jail, spent only part of their budgets.

Many of these programs were part of a five-year plan that was approved by the cabinet in 2008 but received state funding only in 2010, in the wake of a petition to the High Court of Justice.

The comptroller's report also criticizes the Civil Service Commission and state agencies for not doing enough to hire Ethiopian immigrants. Members of this community are also underrepresented in government companies, most notably the Ashdod Port Company and the National Roads Company.

"The report’s findings show that despite marked efforts by ministries, in cooperation with the third [philanthropic] sector, to advance immigrants from Ethiopia, the gaps between them and the rest of the population remain significant," the report states.

"The basic conditions for effective action by the ministries do not exist, first and foremost the lack of coordination by an overarching body that would allocate and organize all the government and third-sector budgets."

The introduction to this chapter, in a departure from the usual style of state comptroller’s reports, included personal remarks from State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, who noted that his bureau chief, Rahel Tabay, is of Ethiopian origin.

"Rahel opened a window for me to this wonderful and talented community, and stressed that this isn’t a community that says, 'I deserve it' or 'Give me' without taking action," Shapira wrote.

He included in his introduction a picture of himself with Abraham Tarifa, a teenage violinist from Jerusalem's Ethiopian community who was invited to play at a holiday toast in the State Comptroller’s Office.

Ethiopian children head to school.Credit: Nir Keidar

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