Israel: Update to ISR39674.E of 24 July 2002 on the treatment of Ethiopian Jews (2002 - September 2004)
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada|
|Publication Date||13 September 2004|
|Citation / Document Symbol||ISR42965.E|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Israel: Update to ISR39674.E of 24 July 2002 on the treatment of Ethiopian Jews (2002 - September 2004), 13 September 2004, ISR42965.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/42df611411.html [accessed 20 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Today, there are approximately 80,000 Jews of Ethiopian extraction living in Israel (AP 10 Jan. 2004; Times 28 Jan. 2004; The Jerusalem Post 13 Jan. 2003; AFP 16 Nov. 2003; Le Monde 18 Jan. 2003). They continue to face problems with integration into Israeli society (ibid.; AFP 16 Nov. 2003; AP 16 Feb. 2003; Boston Globe 28 Sept. 2003; JTA 28 Mar. 2004).
Sources indicated that for many Ethiopians Jews, racial discrimination is a persistent problem (AFP 8 Jan. 2004; AP 16 Feb. 2003; JTA 28 Mar. 2004; Washington Report 1 Dec. 2002). Some feel that they are deliberately steered towards Ethiopian neighbourhoods and that their children are segregated at school (AP 16 Feb. 2003). Others feel that their community does not receive the help it needs from the government (ibid.) or that they do not have access to the same services as other Israelis (AFP 17 Feb. 2003). The Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs described how, in 2002, two Ugandan Jews were reportedly denied admission to two Orthodox Jewish kibbutzim's Hebrew language programs "alleged[ly]...because they were black" (Washington Report 1 December 2002). The same report noted that "Ethiopian Jews say they are often referred to as 'primitives,' [and] that their Jewishness is regularly questioned" (ibid.). According to the report, mayors of some cities, such as Rishon LeZion, have put pressure on the Israeli government to prevent Ethiopian immigrants from settling inside their boundaries, for fear that, with an influx of Ethiopians, neighbourhoods would deteriorate (1 Dec. 2002). Many Ethiopian neighbourhoods already suffer from high and growing crime rates and drug problems (Washington Report 1 Dec. 2002; Race and Class 1 Apr. 2003).
Several sources point to the high unemployment rate of Ethiopian Jews in Israel AFP 16 Nov. 2003; JTA 28 Mar. 2004). According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), approximately 53 per cent of Ethiopian men and 65 per cent of Ethiopian women are unemployed (28 Mar. 2004). However, a JDC-Brookdale Institute of Jerusalem survey found that the employment rate among Ethiopian men ranged between 56 and 77 per cent, which is approaching the average Israeli men's rate of 74 per cent (The Jerusalem Post 13 July 2004).
However, according to the JTA, the same survey found that in 56 per cent of Ethiopian households with children neither parent is employed (JTA 28 Mar. 2004). Three quarters of families live below the poverty line and most of their revenue is derived from social assistance (Le Monde 18 Jan. 2003). Those that do work are often employed in low-end jobs (The Jerusalem Post 13 July 2004), and many families say that they live in overcrowded or poorly maintained apartments (JTA 28 Mar. 2004). The government provides Ethiopian Jews with "generous" mortgage programs in order to help them become homeowners (JTA 28 Mar. 2004; Washington Report 1 Dec. 2002); however, the only homes available are often located in socially disadvantaged areas of the country, with access to only substandard services (ibid.; JTA 28 Mar. 2004).
A job-creation initiative for Ethiopians in Tel Aviv trains them as bus drivers; once hired, they can earn a salary similar to that of the average Israeli (JTA 28 Mar. 2004). In 2002, US$600 million was earmarked to train and educate Ethiopian immigrants over a nine-year period (Washington Report 1 Dec. 2002).
Associated Press has reported that Ethiopian activists complain of a lack of government resources being directed toward social betterment programs for Ethiopians (16 Feb. 2003). Others indicate that it is not the quantity of governmental assistance, but rather its quality, which is preventing the rapid absorption of Ethiopian Jews into Israeli society (JTA 28 Mar. 2004).
Although, in 1973, the Israeli Rabbinate officially considered them authentic Jews, with the same legal status as all other Jews (The Jerusalem Post 13 Jan. 2003), many rabbis, including those belonging to Habad, continue to doubt their Jewishness and Ethiopian Jews therefore must, as a matter of practice, formally convert to Judaism (Washington Report 1 Dec. 2002) before they can marry (Le Monde 18 Jan. 2003). The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs indicated that since some Orthodox Jewish groups do not consider the Ethiopians Jewish, their children are not allowed to attend their kindergartens (1 Dec. 2002). The report also points to the complaints of many Ethiopian Jews concerning discrimination in the Israeli Defence Forces, noting that Ethiopians have the highest suicide rate in the army (Washington Report 1 Dec. 2002).
The Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ) reported the transfer of Ethiopian students to a centre for high risk youth despite the lack of evidence of any concrete behavioural problems or learning disabilities; the transfer was apparently motivated by the fact that the students were new immigrants and had not yet undergone a proper conversion to Judaism (IAEJ n.d.c).
Many Ethiopian Jewish adults do not speak Hebrew (Le Monde 18 Jan. 2003) and three quarters of Ethiopian Jewish women are illiterate (Le Monde 18 Jan. 2003). According to the JTA, approximately 70 per cent of Israeli Ethiopians do not read or write Hebrew (28 Mar. 2004). The high-school dropout rate is high among Ethiopian Jews (ibid.; Washington Report 1 Dec. 2002); according to a report by the Palm Beach Post, in 2001 it hovered at twice that of the national average, with only 28 per cent of Ethiopians finishing high school (17 Jan. 2001).
However, many second-generation Ethiopians are quickly adapting to Israeli society (AP 16 Feb. 2003) through the education system and the army (Le Monde 18 Jan. 2003). Since the number of Ethiopian children in boarding schools, often known for their emphasis on vocational training rather than university preparation has decreased, the proportion of Ethiopian children passing exams to enter universities has increased substantially (JTA 28 Mar. 2004). The government offers tuition wavers to Ethiopian youth (Washington Report 1 Dec. 2002) and in 2003, there were an estimated 3,000 Ethiopians in Israeli schools, compared to 146 in 1993 (Le Monde 18 Jan. 2003). Recent examples of successfully integrated Ethiopians include a rock star, a member of the national soccer team, a member of parliament, and a trainee in the elite Israeli Air Force pilot-training course (Boston Globe 28 Sept. 2003).
In 1993, the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ) was founded to help provide solutions to the problems facing Ethiopian immigrants in the fields of education, housing and employment (IAEJ n.d.a). Among the association's activities included advocacy on behalf of Ethiopian immigrants (ibid.) and the voicing of their opinions and recommendations to the Knesset (ibid., n.d.b).
Recently arrived Falash Mura, who claim to be the descendents of Ethiopian Jews forced to convert to Christianity in the 19th Century, live in barracks-like state-subsidized housing in Israel to which Israeli authorities have allowed them to immigrate (AP 10 Jan. 2004). In January 2004, Associated Press reported that Israel had capped immigration of Falash Mura to the Jewish State at 300 a month (ibid.). However, since Israel does not recognize the Falash Mura as Jewish, they are not automatically eligible for Israeli citizenship, which they can obtain only after studying for formal conversion to Judaism (ibid.). While many in the established Ethiopian Jewish community complain that the Falash Mura are not authentic Jews and are looking for a convenient way out of their poverty-stricken country, a sentiment echoed by some scholars (AP 10 Jan. 2004; Times 28 Jan. 2004), many Falash Mura themselves contend that they are subject to less government social assistance compared to that received by immigrants from other countries, such as the former Soviet Union, many of whom belong to non-Jewish religions (AP 10 Jan. 2004).
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Agence France Presse (AFP). 8 January 2004. Abraham Fisseha. "En Éthiopie, les Falashmoras rêvent toujours de la Terre promise." (AFP Mail)
_____. 16 November 2003. "Des immigrants d'Éthiopie demandent que leurs proches puissent les rejoindre." (AFP Mail)
_____. 17 February 2003. Jean-Marc Mojon. "La nouvelle vague d'immigrants éthiopiens en Israël suscite des controverses." (AFP Mail)
Associated Press (AP). 10 January 2004. Gavin Rabinowitz. "Israel Wavers on Entry of Ethiopian Immigrants Who Claim to Be Jewish." (Dialog)
_____. 16 February 2003. Yoav Appel. "About 17,000 Ethiopian Falash Mura Permitted to Immigrate to Israel." (NEXIS)
The Boston Globe. 28 September 2003. Charles A. Radin. "Waiting for the Promised Land: Thousands of Struggling Ethiopians With Claims to Jewish Roots Have Been Blocked From Immigrating to Israel." (Dialog)
Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ). n.d.a. "About Us: The Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ)."
_____. n.d.b. "Discrimination Against Ethiopian Students."
_____. n.d.c. "Arbitrary Transfer of Ethiopian Students to a Center for A-Risk Youth."
The Jerusalem Post. 13 July 2004. Tia Goldenberg. "Israel: Survey Shows Ethiopian Immigrants' Socioeconomic Situation Improving." (FBIS-NES-2004-0713 WNC/14 Jul. 2004).
_____. 13 January 2003. Tovah Lazaroff. "Immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Resume Immediately." (NEXIS)
Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). 28 March 2004. Dina Kraft. "Kids Have African-Israeli Identity, but Ethiopian Parents Still Foreigners."
Le Monde [Paris]. 18 January 2003. Stéphanie Le Bars. "La difficile intégration des Falachas en Israël; Pauvreté, illettrisme, suspicions religieuses : un fosse sépare les juifs d'Éthiopie du reste du pays." (NEXIS)
Palm Beach Post. 17 January 2001. Ron Hayes. "Ethiopian Jew Assists Others in Adjusting to Life in Israel." (Dialog)
Race and Class [London]. 1 April 2003. Vol. 44, No. 4. David Landy. "90 Inca Israeli-Jews: Recruiting for Israel's Demographic War." (Dialog)
Times [London]. 28 January 2004. Jonathan Clayton. "Ethiopia's Jews Head for Better Future in Land of Promise." (Dialog)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. 1 December 2002. Vol. 21, No. 9. Hisham Aidi. "Hip Hoppers and Black Panthers in the Holy Land." (Dialog)
Additional Sources Consulted
Unsuccessful attempts to contact the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews.
Internet Sites, including: Amnesty International (AI), The Economist, European Country of Origin Information Network (ECOI), Freedom House, Haaretz, Human Rights Watch (HRW), International Herald Tribune (IHT), Jerusalem Report Magazine, The Jewish Agency for Israel, The Jews of Africa, Maariv, Moment Magazine, United States Department of State.