After a three day walk, Mulet Araro arrived in Jerusalem. He joined over 5,000 people who gathered last Wednesday ( 2012-01-18) outside of the Knesset to demonstrate against discrimination against Ethiopians.
Araro had walked all the way from his home town, Kiriat Malachi, a town south of Tel Aviv. Kiriat Malachi made the news a few weeks ago when channel Two reported that over a 100 families in Kiriat Malachi had agreed to refuse to sell or rent to Ethiopians. Outrage over this blatent act of organized discrimination lead to last Wednesday’s demonstration as well as one a week earlier in Kiriat Malachi.
This is not the only incident of discrimination that troubles the Ethiopian community. Recently, a Jerusalem school bus driver had to be suspended because he addressed racial slurs to Ethiopian students. Attempts to desegregate schools in Petach Tikva are failing because local religious schools do not want to accept Ethiopian students.
In Rishon LeZion, a bus driver refused to allow an Ethiopian woman on an Egged bus because she was Ethiopian. Non-profits providing assistence to the ethiopian community have struggled to find office space. Ethiopians have double the unemployment rate of the general Israeli population and Ethiopian college graduates and professionals are more often underemployed than the general population. The poverty rate is more than triple that of the general population.
There is also discrimination at the government level. The rabbinut and religious services ministry’s refusal to support additional Ethiopian priests. The government appears to be stalling on bringing the remaining Falasha Muras from Ethiopia, bringing 90 fewer each month than originally promised. Absorption minister Sofi Landver callously told the press that Ethiopians shouldn’t protest because they owed Israel gratitude for all it had done for them.
Not all Israelis are racist, but enough are to make life difficult for Ethiopians.
Several government leaders have lined up to protest this line. President Peres told Ethiopian students that Israel should be grateful to them and not the othr way around. In a show of solidarity, opposition leader Tzipi Livni attended the demonstration. She reminded reporters that all Israelis must take ownership of this problem, saying:
They [Ethiopians] need to know that we respect them as a society and that the Israeli government gives them what any Israeli citizen gets. And this is something that relates to standard of living, respect . This is something that needs to be done today. And it is not an ethiopian problem. It is the problem of Israeli society.
In the United States, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published a press release stating its support.
Protest is only the first step. Promises of support are easy to make. The question is: will actions follow from the government? What will it take to chnge the attitudes of those who measure people by their skin or cultural heritage, and not their substance?