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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 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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December 13, 2012 6

Disturbing Messages about Female IDF Soldier Circulated Widely on Facebook, Twitter

Update, Decem­ber 17, 2012: After ADL urged Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent Lee Bollinger to take action regard­ing the dis­turb­ing pic­ture of an IDF sol­dier, the pic­ture was sub­se­quently removed and no longer appears on the Face­book page of the Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity employee men­tioned below.

The pro­gram direc­tor of Colum­bia University’s Cen­ter for Pales­tine Stud­ies, Maryam Zohny, shared a pic­ture on Face­book ear­lier today of a female Israel Defense Forces sol­dier that describes the sol­dier as a “ter­ror­ist” and “killer” and claims that she is “WANTED by the RESISTANCE.” The image con­tains the logos of var­i­ous Pales­tin­ian ter­ror­ist groups, includ­ing Al Qas­sam Brigades Al Aqsa Mar­tyrs Brigades, Pales­tin­ian Islamic Jihad and the Pop­u­lar Front for the Lib­er­a­tion of Pales­tine.

Other ver­sions of the image that have been posted by oth­ers on Face­book and Twit­ter have also included a pic­ture of the sol­dier with a gun being pointed at her head and a mes­sage claim­ing that she’s “Wanted” by Al Qas­sam Brigades, Hamas’s mil­i­tary wing.

These images have gen­er­ated an out­pour­ing of com­ments from indi­vid­u­als across the Mid­dle East call­ing for her death; one com­menter, for exam­ple, wrote, “May Allah make 60 bul­lets emp­tied in her head.” Oth­ers wrote, “God will­ing they will shoot you and they will leave no spot in your body with­out a bul­let” and “ a soul for a soul… pun­ish­ment, punishment.”

The sol­dier is allegedly respon­si­ble for shoot­ing and killing a Pales­tin­ian teenager in Hebron ear­lier this week after he pointed what turned out to be a toy gun at another Israeli sol­dier stand­ing near her.

The Cen­ter for Pales­tine Stud­ies was cre­ated in Octo­ber 2010 as an aca­d­e­mic pro­gram ded­i­cated to Pales­tin­ian his­tory and writ­ings. Since its incep­tion, how­ever, the Cen­ter has hosted numer­ous anti-Israel events, includ­ing “Debunk­ing the Myth of Israeli Democ­racy,” “Some­one Please Call 911: Israel’s Fail­ure to Pro­tect Pales­tini­ans and their Prop­erty” and “Gaza: Israel’s War and the Gold­stone Report,” which fea­tured Nor­man Finkel­stein, an anti-Israel speaker who has accused Israel of com­mit­ting a “Holo­caust” in Gaza, expressed sup­port for Hezbol­lah and described Israel as a “satanic state.”

The Cen­ter also co-sponsored a panel dis­cus­sion last year at Colum­bia Law School’s Cen­ter for Gen­der and Sex­u­al­ity Law. The event fea­tured three speak­ers who claimed that Israel “pinkwashes” the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict by pro­mot­ing its pro­gres­sive record on LGBT issues in an effort to dis­tract atten­tion from the occupation.

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