Alone in the Social Desert

In other countries, demonstrations can have cohesion between the social organizations; in Israel, the social protests were sectarian.

I was 16-years-old when I saw the most exciting demonstration I have ever been exposed to. That was in London. A swarm of people filled the streets. Feminist associations, Buddhist monks, supporters of Hari Krishna, homosexuals and lesbians, black and white men and women marching together and carrying banners that read "Free Nelson Mandela". That was an amazing demonstration of cohesion between all the social organizations. The quiet march of protest was filled with respect for man and his freedom, and it was an inspiring festivity of human, social, political and cultural richness.

In Israel, the social protest is sectarian. The various groups very rarely hold hands. Over the years, the demonstrations in Israel have expressed the cry of the group that is protesting, whose members feel deprived. This past summer, solidarity came to life in full force and swept over the streets of Israel. In the tents of the protest, demonstrators came together from different groups and varied professional struggles - those of the doctors, the teachers, the manpower workers - interlaced with one another and were embraced by the public and the media.

Against the backdrop of this summer's brotherhood, it is disappointing to see that the Ethiopian community has remained alone in its fight against racism in Israel. Its members have remained outside the tents of the protest. Since the opening of the new school year, the Petah Tikva municipality has refused to absorb children from the Ethiopian community in the city's educational facilities with the pretext that, by now, sufficient children from that community have already been absorbed. This is not a new struggle but it seems to spring up anew every year in an almost ceremonial way, as only the name of the city changes. In recent years, every time Israeli racism reared its head, the Ethiopian community began a legal battle.

This year, too, the struggle is being moved to the courts. Tabeka, the center for legal aid and advocacy for Ethiopian Jews, has petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Education Ministry, its minister and the Petah Tikva municipality. In the past few months, Israelis have enjoyed talking about a new discourse and expressing the desire for a new social order. During the tent protest, the middle class joined hands with the weaker sections of the population and demanded social improvement, including for the homeless, single mothers, and minorities in Israel. The social solidarity that returned to the public discourse should find expression also in support for the struggle of the Ethiopian children.

The situation of the Ethiopian community has not made the radar of social justice groups, even though it was working this summer with full force. The current struggle by that community is not for status, quality of life, housing or even for buying an affordable container of cottage cheese. It is a struggle that comes from a different discourse, one that is more basic and universal, that focuses on equality - the struggle for human rights and human justice.

This struggle should disturb every citizen whose children study in the education system. Israel's left has shown that it knows how to demonstrate against the expulsion of foreign workers, or to express solidarity with the Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah. Why does it seem more fashionable to support refugees, foreign workers or Arabs, and why is identifying with Israelis of Ethiopian origin less popular? Why does the creative activism of the social activists dissipate when the "other" is a black person of Ethiopian origin?

The Ethiopian community must not be left to demonstrate alone against the racism that is showing its face. It is worthwhile to join their completely justified struggle. It is a struggle over the moral face of Israeli society and it has to be the struggle of all of us. It relates to the basics of social justice - the right of a black child to study with a white child and to enjoy an equal education. Every day that goes by when the Ethiopian children are sitting at home is a black day for Israeli democracy.