Abraham H. Foxman » ADL Blogs
May 19, 2015 0

Reencounter: Ethiopian Jews and Their Children

By Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Jerusalem Post Blog

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In the 1990s, in the years after the Israel Defense Forces air­lifted 22,000 Ethiopian Jews in Oper­a­tions Moses (1984) and Solomon (1991) to bring them to the Jew­ish home­land, an idea was born to have these new Jew­ish immi­grants share with Amer­i­can stu­dents their expe­ri­ences as Africans, Jews and Israelis. That idea resulted in ADL’s Chil­dren of the Dream, a pro­gram that began in Los Ange­les and then quickly expanded across the U.S.

In Amer­i­can class­rooms, recre­ation cen­ters and across lunch tables, young Ethiopian Israelis told com­pelling sto­ries of res­cue from oppres­sion in Ethiopia and their jour­neys to free­dom in Israel. It was pow­er­ful and mov­ing to see these young Israeli men and women inter­act­ing with Amer­i­can stu­dents, who were awed by the fact that these young Ethiopian teenagers were not only immi­grants from a far­away land, but were also, remark­ably, newly minted Israeli cit­i­zens and Jews. In short, they did not fit the stereo­typ­i­cal notion of who is Jew­ish and what is a Jew.

Amer­i­can stu­dents responded with their own sto­ries of dis­crim­i­na­tion and flight.

Although orig­i­nally designed as a pro­gram to edu­cate Amer­i­cans about Ethiopian Jews and Israel, the pro­gram also served as a lead­er­ship devel­op­ment pro­gram for the Ethiopian Israeli stu­dents them­selves. In the decade or so of the pro­gram, 120 Ethiopian Israelis received lead­er­ship skills in an inten­sive prepara­tory pro­gram. 

A year and a half ago, when ADL cel­e­brated its 100th anniver­sary, we had a reunion with our Chil­dren of the Dream grad­u­ates, many of whom have gone on to edu­ca­tional and pro­fes­sional suc­cess and main­tained their con­nec­tion to ADL. 

At that event, the grad­u­ates shared what a life-changing expe­ri­ence they had – that because ADL believed in them, because they were selected to rep­re­sent their com­mu­nity and their coun­try, they believed in them­selves.

I so enjoyed this rem­i­nisc­ing and catch­ing up with these now-adults, that I asked if we could con­tinue to meet and, next time, if they would please bring their chil­dren.

And this week, in Israel, we did. I met the spouses and chil­dren, and heard the suc­cess sto­ries of our grad­u­ates who have gone on to higher edu­ca­tion to build fam­i­lies, homes and careers. The drive, pride and energy con­tinue to the next gen­er­a­tion. 

One of the chil­dren of our grad­u­ates, 10 years old, asked her mother if the “founder” of the pro­gram was going to be present. “Can I speak to him in Eng­lish?” she asked. She approached me and said, much as her mother did some 15 years ago, “My name is Galit, and I wanted to talk to you in Eng­lish to show you that I know. I prac­ticed with my mother all the way.”

Cur­rent chal­lenges were on everyone’s mind. The Ethiopian com­mu­nity in Israel has expe­ri­enced dif­fi­cult weeks with demon­stra­tions against the Israel Police with claims of bru­tal­ity and racism. These con­cerns, along with charges of dis­crim­i­na­tion and mis­treat­ment, are real and must be addressed together with the com­mu­nity on every level of Israeli soci­ety.

There were nods and applauds when I said: “Is Israel a racist coun­try? No, it isn’t. Are there racist peo­ple? – Yes. But this coun­try took its sol­diers into Ethiopia to bring the Jews here. Israel is not per­fect and there is an oppor­tu­nity to right past mis­takes.” 

One of the par­tic­i­pants, who is now a Lieu­tenant Colonel in the Israel Defense Forces, asserted, “I don’t believe this coun­try is racist.” Sev­eral oth­ers added, “The vio­lent demon­stra­tions won’t serve us well. Now we have to work together to improve our sit­u­a­tion.”

We have rejoiced in the story of the aliyah of Ethiopian Jews for decades and the strength and inspi­ra­tion they have brought to the Jew­ish state. 

The story is not yet over, nor should our efforts be. Together, we need to ensure inclu­sion and equity, to empower and enable the con­tri­bu­tions of those who expe­ri­enced the dream of com­ing to Israel, and their children.

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May 4, 2015 0

Israeli Ethiopians & Israeli Society

By Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Jerusalem Post Blog

As anger and frus­tra­tion boiled over in the streets in Tel Aviv and our hearts ached over scenes of con­fronta­tion and vio­lence between Israeli Ethiopi­ans and the Israel Police, our thoughts turned to an ear­lier time for the Ethiopian Jews who made the ardu­ous jour­ney to their Jew­ish home­land in Israel.

Some 15 years ago in the after­math of the riots in Los Ange­les trig­gered by police mis­treat­ment of Rod­ney King, the Anti-Defamation League devel­oped a unique pro­gram to fos­ter under­stand­ing between minor­ity groups and encour­age the devel­op­ment of young lead­ers who would stand up to prej­u­dice, big­otry and dis­crim­i­na­tion.
We called it “Chil­dren of the Dream,” and the expe­ri­ence of Ethiopian Jewry was the main focus.
“Chil­dren of the Dream” was designed to empower Israeli Ethiopian teenagers to share their immi­grant sto­ries with Amer­i­can youth, to illus­trate how Israel brought this endan­gered com­mu­nity to their Jew­ish homeland.

ADL’s her­itage as an Amer­i­can Jew­ish civil rights and human rela­tions orga­ni­za­tion and our strong pres­ence in Israel made us uniquely posi­tioned to broaden our work build­ing bridges of under­stand­ing within diverse com­mu­ni­ties in both coun­tries through this program.

In the process, we chal­lenged and broke down stereo­types. It was pow­er­ful and mov­ing to see these young Israeli men and women inter­act­ing with Amer­i­can stu­dents, who were awed by the fact that these young Ethiopian teenagers were not only immi­grants from a far­away land, but were also, remark­ably, newly minted Israeli cit­i­zens and Jews.  In short, they did not fit the stereo­typ­i­cal notion of who is Jew­ish and what is a Jew.

Through the years, the pro­gram gave every­one touched by it a feel­ing of hope. The pride those Ethiopian teenagers felt in being cho­sen to rep­re­sent their new home­land as Jews played a crit­i­cal role in their absorp­tion into Israeli life. And it con­tributed to their suc­cess sto­ries as they ful­filled their ser­vice in the Israel Defense Forces, com­pleted their aca­d­e­mic stud­ies, chose their careers and built families.

The dis­turb­ing images last week of Israeli police mis­treat­ing an Israeli Ethiopian sol­dier, fol­lowed by ugly inci­dents of vio­lence in street protests against the inci­dent Sun­day night in Rabin Square — as with the recent vio­lence in response to alle­ga­tions of police mis­treat­ment of African-Americans in the U.S. — were a stark reminder that Israel, also like the U.S., still has a long way to go in ensur­ing full equal­ity for all of its citizens.

Israel, which was founded on demo­c­ra­tic ideals of equal­ity and has wel­comed immi­grants from all over the world, must inten­sify efforts through­out Israeli soci­ety to pro­mote and strengthen under­stand­ing and respect among its citizens.

So where have things gone wrong?

From our work in diver­sity edu­ca­tion, we have learned that the ear­lier chil­dren learn to respect oth­ers, the ear­lier we see the most sig­nif­i­cant results. Sadly, with the need to meet aca­d­e­mic goals, pro­grams to pro­mote under­stand­ing and respect are often left behind or de-emphasized. It can­not be so in Israel, a land of immi­grants.  And it should not be so in Amer­ica, either.

The chap­ter on Israel’s efforts to bring Jew­ish Ethiopi­ans to Israel — going so far as to air­lift them to the Jew­ish state — is a mag­nif­i­cent one.  Yet 15 years ago, as today, we know it is not enough just to bring Jews to Israel from all over the world.  They must be assim­i­lated and accepted into soci­ety. It is like­wise not enough to have laws to pre­vent dis­crim­i­na­tion; the laws have to be enforced to be meaningful.

Just this past week, Israel Police Com­mis­sioner Yohanan Danino took the first steps toward engag­ing in the hard work needed to pro­mote a sense of trust between the Israel Police and the mem­bers of the Ethiopian com­mu­nity they are sworn to protect.

Ensur­ing that all cit­i­zens of Israel feel pro­tected by the law and respected by law enforce­ment requires con­stant vig­i­lance.  While we under­stand their frus­tra­tion and anger, we also need to remind the Israeli Ethiopian com­mu­nity that vio­lence will only cause fur­ther dam­age to their cause.

And for the future: The gov­ern­ment of Israel and Israeli civil soci­ety should com­mit to a plan of action to coun­ter­act racism in gen­eral and toward the Ethiopian com­mu­nity in par­tic­u­lar as a pri­or­ity in order to ensure a healthy soci­ety for all Israelis.

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April 29, 2015 0

Anti-Semitism on Campus: Old Wine in New Bottles

By Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

As some­one who has been crit­i­cal about the some­times over­heated reac­tion to what is tak­ing place regard­ing Jews on cam­pus, I also believe it is vital to mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion closely and to be able to reeval­u­ate as things may change.

I still believe that the vast major­ity of Jew­ish stu­dents have nor­mal lives on cam­pus where they can be com­fort­able in their own skins and with their Jew­ish iden­ti­ties. That is why a recent sur­vey sug­gest­ing that more than 50 per­cent of Jew­ish stu­dents expe­ri­enced anti-Semitism in one form or another was dis­turb­ing. This sur­vey – which in my opin­ion was flawed — was not a help­ful read­ing of what is going on.

And yet, some­thing is chang­ing.  We need to iden­tify what it is and deal with it — with­out declar­ing the sky is falling.

His­tor­i­cally, many cam­puses, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to fac­ulty, have a rep­u­ta­tion of being left-wing or at least very lib­eral. Since the vast major­ity of the Jew­ish com­mu­nity has iden­ti­fied itself in a sim­i­lar fash­ion for decades, there seemed to be no problem.

Together with this, how­ever, polls of the Amer­i­can peo­ple in the last few years appear to indi­cate an increas­ing gap in atti­tudes toward Israel between those who iden­tify them­selves as con­ser­v­a­tives and those who iden­tify them­selves as lib­er­als. The lat­ter are increas­ingly ques­tion­ing Israeli poli­cies and express­ing inter­est in a more bal­anced Amer­i­can approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is this evolv­ing phe­nom­e­non which, I believe, is lend­ing force to the anti-Israel forces on cam­pus. Let’s be clear: There has always been a mea­sure of left-wing oppo­si­tion to Israel on cam­puses, whether from fac­ulty or some stu­dent groups.

For sure they are more orga­nized today.  Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine, the main orga­niz­ing force behind the boy­cott, divest­ment and sanc­tions cam­paigns, has refined and inten­si­fied its tac­tics and is pop­ping up on new cam­puses every month or so.  Regard­less of the fact that the BDS cam­paign has not gained much trac­tion on cam­pus in terms of hav­ing any impact against Israel – many, if not most, of the boy­cott votes have been soundly defeated – it is cre­at­ing a great deal of noise on cam­pus and beyond, rais­ing a lot of atten­tion, and con­tribut­ing to the sense of dis­com­fort of Jew­ish students.

But the biggest change is the fer­tile ground in which the anti-Israel com­mu­nity is sow­ing its seeds.

The trends that are appear­ing relate to the per­cep­tion of Jew­ish stu­dents and their rela­tions with other minor­ity com­mu­ni­ties.  There are sug­ges­tions that Jews do not qual­ify for par­tic­i­pa­tion in minor­ity com­mu­nity activ­ity on cam­pus, for two rea­sons:  1) They are deemed peo­ple of priv­i­lege, not minori­ties wor­thy of spe­cial atten­tion; and 2) their assumed sup­port for “colo­nial­ist, apartheid” Israel puts them in the camp of would-be oppres­sors rather than tar­gets and oppo­nents of prejudice.

Recent inci­dents at UCLA and Stan­ford bring this dis­turb­ing phe­nom­e­non into focus.  At UCLA, a stu­dent leader had her qual­i­fi­ca­tions for a Judi­cial Board posi­tion come under ques­tion due to her Jew­ish iden­tity and affil­i­a­tion with the Jew­ish com­mu­nity on cam­pus. At Stan­ford, a Jew­ish stu­dent run­ning for a posi­tion in stu­dent gov­ern­ment was asked how her Judaism might influ­ence her posi­tion on divest­ment from Israel.

What was so stun­ning to the stu­dent appli­cants was not that they were asked about their views on Israel – they were aware that, unfor­tu­nately, these bod­ies sup­ported boy­cott actions against the Jew­ish State.  Rather, that there was no shame in intro­duc­ing the can­di­dates’ Jew­ish­ness as the crit­i­cal fac­tor in assess­ing the candidacy.

It is this link­ing of atti­tudes toward Israel and atti­tudes toward Jews that raises con­cern about the future of Jew­ish life on cam­pus.  Larry Sum­mers, when pres­i­dent at Har­vard, fore­saw this back in 2002 when there was an effort to bring a divest­ment cam­paign to the university.

He, most impor­tantly, rejected it, decry­ing the abhor­rent com­par­i­son of demo­c­ra­tic Israel to apartheid South Africa.  He then went on to explain that while not all who advo­cated divest­ment from Israel were moti­vated by anti-Semitism, even those who weren’t cre­ated a cli­mate mak­ing anti-Semitism more palat­able by the assault on the good name of the Jew­ish State.

In effect, the attacks on Israel on cam­pus are unleash­ing inhi­bi­tions against expres­sions of anti-Jewish prej­u­dice and begin­ning to legit­imize attacks on Jews on campus.

While much of this is in a nascent stage, it is impor­tant to deal with it now on sev­eral levels.

First, greater efforts must be made to gen­er­ate a more bal­anced view of Israel and the region among minor­ity stu­dents.  Some are undoubt­edly locked in to their anti-Israel per­spec­tive for ide­o­log­i­cal rea­sons.  But many oth­ers are cer­tainly open to hear­ing a dif­fer­ent take on the Mid­dle East.  Not one in which Israel is always in the right, but a com­pli­cated nar­ra­tive about com­pet­ing inter­est and needs.

Sec­ond, it must be made clear that what­ever one’s views on the con­flict, treat­ing Jews dif­fer­ently is unac­cept­able and it is what it is, anti-Semitism. Uni­ver­sity offi­cials must speak out clearly and unequiv­o­cally against even the slight­est hint of sin­gling Jews out that way.

Third, we must con­tin­u­ally assess the sta­tus of Jews on cam­pus in a calm and ratio­nal way, dis­tin­guish­ing between the real chal­lenges Jew­ish stu­dents face with­out send­ing alarm sig­nals which could under­mine the nor­mal life on cam­pus that exists for most of them.

Jews in Amer­ica have made too much progress over the last half-century to cause us to over­re­act. Still, we can­not afford to be com­pla­cent. We have to address these cam­pus issues now before they expand fur­ther and spin out of con­trol, truly cre­at­ing a wide­spread wor­ri­some atmosphere.

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