In May, a protest by Ethiopian Israelis rocked the country. In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to quickly draft a plan to encourage their integration into Israeli society. But three months after these demonstrations, and three weeks after the cabinet approved the state budget, no authorized party is prepared to give details about the amounts allocated for implementing this plan. The Finance Ministry’s decision not to include the necessary funds in the base budget further undermines the Ethiopian community’s already limited trust in the government.
The formulation of a new policy began about 18 months ago, in meetings attended by senior officials from 12 government ministries, as well as representatives of the Ethiopian community, social activists and a long list of NGOs. The process was initiated by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, but responsibility was transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) a few months ago.
The discussions were at an advanced stage when halted due to the early Knesset election, but were resumed after the new government was established, at about the same time as the Ethiopian-Israeli protests. “We’ll bring a comprehensive plan to assist you in every way possible to the cabinet,” Netanyahu promised the demonstrators at the time.
The government plan, which was supposed to be comprehensive and integrative, has since been divided into sections. The education section, for example, includes a promise to reduce the number of Ethiopian-Israelis referred to special education by 25 percent and double the number of teachers from this community. The health and social affairs ministries are seeking to promote a policy of helping Ethiopian-Israelis to exercise their rights, while the Defense Ministry has already begun abolishing Israel Defense Forces programs intended solely for Ethiopian-Israelis.
Nevertheless, the people responsible for the plan made clear that other issues raised during the protest – like the attitude of the police toward the community, expressions of racism and the status of the community’s religious leaders – would be discussed separately.
It’s superfluous to point out that the plan can’t succeed without funding, and suspicions are growing that this isn’t at the top of the decision-makers’ priority list. As Haaretz reports, while the Finance Ministry says it is “in the midst of the process of budgeting” the various programs, the PMO says “professional task forces in the social-welfare ministries, the [treasury’s] budget department and the PMO have agreed on the size of the requisite budget.” Sources in the PMO also said that, contrary to its promises, the treasury has yet to indicate where the funds will come from.
Successive Netanyahu governments have amassed plenty of experience in scattering promises of societal change, setting up committees and making use of experts and activists, but ultimately allocating nothing in the budget and, consequently, the “reforms” or plans are buried. That’s what happened with most of the recommendations in the Trajtenberg report, which was intended to quiet the social-justice protests of 2011, and also with those of the Alalouf Committee for reducing poverty. Now, it seems, it’s the Ethiopian-Israelis’ turn.