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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


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 8, 2015 8

Gilad Atzmon and Yaakov Shapiro Condemn Israel and Zionism


Flyer adver­tis­ing the event

On May 6 in New York City, an anti-Israel event fea­tured Gilad Atz­mon, an Israeli-born anti-Semite based in Lon­don, and Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro, Spokesper­son for the anti-Israel group “True Torah Jews.” The stated goal of the event, titled “Judaism ver­sus Jew­ish Iden­tity Pol­i­tics: Reli­gion ver­sus Trib­al­ism,” was to help “unravel the tan­gled web of sec­u­lar Jew­ish pol­i­tics, right and left.”

In his remarks, Atz­mon claimed that there have been con­certed efforts to silence his views, but that the efforts were “not from Zion­ist bod­ies, but actu­ally from Jew­ish left bod­ies,” such as Jew­ish Voice for Peace. He stated that JVP’s stance took him “by com­plete sur­prise” because he had always worked towards “oppos­ing Israel.”

Atz­mon claimed that there are three cat­e­gories of Jews:

  1. Jews who fol­low the Torah and see Judaism as the core of their identity
  2. Those who iden­tify as Jews because they have Jew­ish heritage
  3. Those who iden­tify polit­i­cally as Jews

Atz­mon, who referred to him­self as “a devoted self-hater,” stated that the first two cat­e­gories of Jews are “inno­cent” because reli­gious Jews “have never been involved in any col­lec­tive geno­ci­dal attempt against another peo­ple,” and that hav­ing “a Jew­ish mother doesn’t make you into a war criminal.”

Accord­ing to Atz­mon, the third cat­e­gory of Jews are “guilty” because they have sup­pos­edly been “at the cen­ter of too many dis­as­ters,” includ­ing the Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion, the Span­ish Civil War, and the “Nakba.” He added that in the U.S. there was “Jew­ish influ­ence within the neo-conservative school” and that Amer­ica is “pay­ing the price for those wars,” which he stated were not “rab­bini­cal wars.”

After Atz­mon con­cluded his ini­tial remarks, Rabbi Shapiro spoke, echo­ing much of what Atz­mon said, and adding his reli­gious anti-Zionist ide­ol­ogy to the dis­cus­sion. Like Atz­mon, he spoke against the cre­ation of Israel and called its for­ma­tion “a his­tor­i­cal anom­aly.” But, rather than focus­ing on the var­i­ous cat­e­gories of Jews that Atz­mon did, Shapiro instead spoke only about sec­u­lar Jews and reli­gious Jews.

Accord­ing to Shapiro, Zion­ism was cre­ated by sec­u­lar Jews who wanted to destroy Ortho­dox Judaism because they allegedly “absorbed the atti­tudes of the anti-Semites and looked at the Jews them­selves with the same dis­gust and loathing that the anti-Semites did.” He con­tin­ued and stated “the rea­son the Jews were dis­gust­ing is because they looked like me and they acted like me. And they blamed the reli­gious Jews for anti-Semitism.”

Shapiro added, “When Gilad says ‘the Jews do this and the Jews do that,’ he’s talk­ing about one type, those are sec­u­lar Jews…The Jews that stole our iden­tity. Nev­er­mind the Pales­tini­ans say they stole our land. They stole our Jew­ish name, they stole my iden­tity, they are not real Jews!”

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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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