Israel Reluctant To Save Jews From War-Torn Ethiopia

On the 20th of November, the Chairman of the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry Organization, Joseph Feit, urged Israeli authorities to “bring all of the 14,100 Ethiopian Jews who have been awaiting aliyah (immigration to Israel), in some cases for decades. Otherwise Israel will be partially responsible for deaths which could have been avoided.” This statement came six days after Ethiopian Israelis demanded that Israel rescue relatives left behind in conflict-ridden Ethiopia, as stated on France 24.

Israel’s National Security Council is still unconvinced that ongoing hostilities in Ethiopia warrant an emergency evacuation of Ethiopian Jews. Moreover, Israelis who oppose Ethiopian immigration question whether there are any “real” Jews in Ethiopian transit camps. The Israeli government, perhaps to defuse accusations of racism, agreed two weeks ago to eventually transfer 5,000 Ethiopian Jews back to Israel. They failed to specify when this will happen, according to the New York Times.

Yet time is running out. The Ethiopian Civil War is escalating as Tigrayan rebels threaten to overrun Addis Ababa. The UN and European Union are ordering foreign citizens and diplomatic staff to get out of Ethiopia as soon as possible, as noted in the Guardian. Ethiopian Jews stranded in decrepit transit camps in Gondar are likely to get caught in the crossfire. Tel-Aviv should immediately strike a deal with the Ethiopian government to hasten the Beta Israel’s emigration in exchange for humanitarian aid.

It is understandable that Ethiopian Jews want to flee war and intolerance and finally reunite with friends or family in Israel. Ashager Araro, founder of the Battae Ethiopian Israeli Heritage Center in Tel Aviv, told the Jewish Journal that her grandfather was killed for being Jewish in Ethiopia. But Israel is by no means a promised land for coloured or religious minorities either. Muslim Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and Israel are treated like second-class citizens and experience systemic institutional discrimination. A Human Rights Watch report demonstrated earlier this year that such grave inequities are akin to apartheid.

The Druze community, a group sociologist Lisa Hajjar described as a “favoured minority” due to its members’ distinguished records in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), intelligence services, and border police, suffers widespread economic and political marginalization as well. Reuters and the Times of Israel often cover the many Druze protesters who highlight glaring disparities between their decaying villages and well-funded Jewish towns.

British-Israeli journalist and author Rachel Shabi exposed the plight of the Mizrahi Jews (Jews originating from Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia)— a people that the dominant Ashkenazi (Jews from Europe) view with suspicion and prejudice due to their North African features, cultures, and languages. Zionist authorities also gave Mizrahi Jews “poorer land, fewer social services, and lower wages” upon their arrival to British Mandate Palestine and later independent Israel, according to Islamic Art specialist Sascha Crasnow. These inequalities persist to this day.

Additionally, Israelis generally do not welcome members of the East-Indian Bnei Menashe Jewish community. The Observer Research Foundation alleges that Indian Jews are discreetly segregated from the rest of society after being resettled to some of the most dangerous areas in the West Bank. Hanoch Haokip told Forward that his teenage daughters endure racist abuse in school, while adults are trapped in low-income factory, security, or cleaning jobs with little hope of social advancement.

A similar fate has befallen the majority of Ethiopian Jews currently living in Israel. The killing of teenager Solomon Tekah by a police officer in 2019 sparked massive demonstrations and unleashed a torrent of anger. An Ethiopian grocery store owner ruefully told Middle East Eye: “There’s no democracy, except maybe for whites. There’s no rule of law for Ethiopians.” Furthermore, for years dozens of Ethiopian women claimed that Israeli health workers in Ethiopian transit camps and Israeli absorption centers coercively injected them with Depo-Provera. American hospitals administered this temporary sterilization drug to “Black, Indigenous, and disabled women without their consent as a method of population control,” according to Ethnic Studies scholar Bayan Abusneineh.

Israel authorities are not only obliged to reunite Ethiopian Jewish families, but they must ensure that new arrivals will be spared the injustices that blighted the lives of countless Ethiopian Israelis who came before them.