WASHINGTON - A U.S. Congressman from Florida has proposed a legislative amendment that would devote $12 million to support Israel's Ethiopian community. The amendment was proposed on Tuesday by Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democratic lawmaker and a member of the House Rules Committee, as part of budget discussions for 2017-2018.
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Hastings explained when presenting this amendment that "of the 141,200 Ethiopians living in Israel today, two-thirds were born in Ethiopia. In many cases, the transitions to modern Israeli society were a culture shock requiring acclimation to new customs and language. The adjustment has led to a number of major challenges, including enduring shortfalls in education."
Hastings added that in light of this situation, "the Israeli Ministry of Education recently completed a long-term review to determine how to best meet the needs of the community. The plan that was presented and adopted included approximately $20 million for programs to improve integration of the Ethiopian community into Israeli society, focusing principally on education, and more specifically, language and math skills."
According to Hastings, Israeli organizations that work with the Ethiopian sector "do not have sufficient resources to meet the needs of these communities," even after the recent addition of Israeli government funding. This was cause for his proposed amendment, adding that "supporting this type of programming would be a logical and effective way to continue improving upon our country’s bilateral relationship, and would build upon programs that are already implemented on the ground."
Hastings, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has been active on the issue of Israel's Ethiopian community for a number of years now. In March of this year, he sent a letter, signed by 12 other members of Congress, encouraging the heads of the House Appropriations Committee to devote money to support programs assisting the Ethiopian community in Israel. Hastings has visited Israel 18 times during his career, and has spoken at the annual conferences of the pro-Israeli lobby group AIPAC.