Why Israel Shouldn’t Adopt America’s Troubles as Her Own

The impulse in Israel to glean from America takes an unhealthy turn in social justice matters

By Arthur Schwartzman | | Topics: America, George Floyd
Black Lives Matter
Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90

The western wind brought to Israeli shores the sad news of the protests and demonstrations, coupled with riots and looting, of the African-American community in the US. Many have seen the terrible video of George Floyd being crushed to death by a white police officer, and if you haven’t, it was hard to miss the black squares on social media posted in solidarity with the protests that ensued.

Israeli celebrities were quick to show solidarity with the black community abroad. Bar Refaeli shared a post in solidarity to the protests in the United States and snatched up angry reactions from commentators who claimed she was “a hypocrite” or “where were you when Salomon Taka was murdered?”

In response to the wave of support by celebs on the issue abroad, Tahounia Rubel, Israeli fashion model and television personality from Ethiopian descent, decided to turn the issues inward, to Israeli society:

“I don’t know if to laugh or cry. Maybe I’ll just get angry because it’s more annoying than funny and more saddening than joyous, for three days now I’ve been flipping through social media and seeing the” touching” solidarity of all those industry-minded people who have followers and an audience who follow them and believe all those easy-going slogans when they don’t know anything! If you want to talk about “solidarity” then you better say you identify with the wave of posts from the big stars of the world … It’s always better that the Kardashians are involved in this and other big names … but you forgot something really small “You live here!!! The State of Israel!”

“So much grief is caused here to “blacks” as you mention in your mind-boggling posts that I don’t remember any of you uploading a black photo to his feed when we blocked roads! When you called us hooligans! When we shattered glass! When we burned tires! When we cried out the name of Joseph Salmassa! Salomon Taka! Yehuda Biadaga! And many more mothers who cry every day for their children! Get out of this horrific bubble you’re living in already! You are not better or more beautiful or more right! You’re just selling one big lie to every person who follows you and mistakenly thinks you’re identifying! You are light years far from identifying with our pain! You are another drop flowing in a river full of falsehood!”

I’ve written here before on the topic of the Ethiopian protests from a biblical standpoint, encouraging believers not to blind themselves to color, but to rejoice in our God-given differences. Unfortunately, comments like Tahounia’s draw a parallel were it shouldn’t be drawn. Black-American history is very much different than Ethiopian-Israeli history. There is a huge difference between African men and women who were forced out of their homes and sold like property and Ethiopian Zionists, idealists and visionaries who made the walk (literally!) to reach the Holy Land. This was done with the help of fellow Jews who saw them as their own tribesmen, contrary to African-Americans who had to fight for their freedoms while facing much opposition.

Are there issues with the integration of the Ethiopian community in the Jewish state? Absolutely.

Is there prejudice in the hearts of men? Certainly.

Probably chief among them is the Ethiopian blood destruction scandal that sparked mass demonstrations in 1996, 2006 and 2013 (it was put to rest only in July of 2017). For those uninformed, the case concerns a policy that was secretly implemented in the blood services of Magen David Adom from 1984–2017. According to the policy, which was not brought to the attention of the Ministry of Health and was hidden from donors until it was unveiled in 1996, almost all blood donations collected from Ethiopian immigrants and their descendants were destroyed.

It’s important to note that also Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern descent) faced challenges upon arriving to a mainly Ashkenazi (European Jewish) established state. Sociologists list a number of explanations for socio-economic gaps among first-generation and second-generation olim, immigrants. Among the main factors are the order of Aliyah, Ashkenazi immigrants came before them and took hold of the system of government, the economy and culture, preferring those similar to them. Creating state standards for qualification and education led Mizrachim to manual labor where salaries are lower. In addition, the concentration of later immigrants in the far periphery limited their access to government centers of power, employment opportunities, and in particular good education in good schools that would lead them to a higher education that would lead to reducing inter-ethnic gaps.

The frustration of many olim led to the establishment of the protest movement called the Black Panthers. The movement’s name was inspired by an American movement of the same name in an attempt to draw a parallel line of discrimination against Mizrahim in Israel to the one that occurred to blacks in the United States.

Many hardships awaited the ex-USSR Jewry upon arrival as well, as I can personally attest to. Although the 90’s immigration wave is considered a relatively successful one, discrimination and prejudice from ‘the ones that were here first’ was common. Ethiopian-Israelis are also facing their problems integrating into Israeli society, but big steps are being made. Just recently, Pnina Tamano-Shata was pronounced the first Ethiopian minister in the Knesset. Moreover, she now oversees the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration! What a suitable role for this 38-year-old lawyer, who made Aliyah during Operation Moses from Sudan. Other achievements include that of Titi Ainao, who was selected as the beauty queen to represent the State of Israel in the Miss Universe competition (2013). In 2010, an actress of Ethiopian descent, Ruti Asrai, was awarded the Israeli Theater Award for Promising Actress. In 2016, three Ethiopian athletes, Daniel Guady, Maru Tafari and Tasma Moggs, represented Israel at the Olympics.

Clearly, the picture here is different, unlike what is being insinuated by Rubel.

The historic and cultural background of our Ethiopian brothers and sisters is different than that of the African-Americans in the US, and thus should be addressed differently. The calls of the Black Lives Matter movement to defund the police in response to unjust police brutality on the basis of race is of a different lot than the integration challenges of Ethiopian Jews.

The impulse in Israel to glean from America takes an unhealthy turn in social justice matters. Still, we must ease the burdens of the olim and cater to their needs and interests, especially those of Ethiopian Jewry, as this group’s struggles are unique in nature and character. The American movements shouldn’t be a model to us as they fail to grasp the full picture, and the kneejerk reaction of crying “racism” when police brutality is applied to Ethiopians should be left outside our borders.


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