For racist Israel, Ethiopian Jews are 'ruining the Zionist dream'

For racist Israel, Ethiopian Jews are 'ruining the Zionist dream'
Comment: Israel aims to create and maintain a state for white Jews only, writes CJ Werleman.
5 min read
01 Oct, 2018
Israel granted citizenship to roughly 125,000 Ethiopian Jews during the 1980s [AFP]
Earlier this year activists representing 8,000 Jews in Ethiopia threatened to stage a mass hunger strike if the Israeli government continued to block their passage to join relatives they had been separated from during the two mass migration waves of 1984 and 1991.

"You cannot find any other communities where the parent is here and children are there, and children are here and parents are there, and are forced to be separated," said Avraham Neguise, chair of the Israeli parliament's Absorption and Diaspora Committee.

This month, the government announced it had agreed to absorb just 1,000 of the remaining 8,000 Ethiopian Jews who seek to flee persecution in their home country and be reunited with their grandparents, parents, children and extended families in the self-proclaimed Jewish state of Israel.

Alisa Bodner, a spokesperson for Israel's Ethiopian community, called Netanyahu's decision an "incredible disappointment," but it's more than that - it's unabashed racism and discrimination.

By way of Israel's "Law of Return" - passed into law by the Knesset in 1950 - every Jew in the world is granted the right to settle in Israel. That is with one notable exception: Ethiopian Jews.

Under strict religious law, Israel does not consider Ethiopian Jews to be Jewish, which means their immigration requires special approval.

"It is only the Ethiopian Jewish community, not the Americans, not the Russians, not Europeans. If this isn't discrimination, what do you call it?" asks Neguise.

Israel does not consider Ethiopian Jews to be Jewish, which means their immigration requires special approval

While Israel has granted citizenship to roughly 125,000 Ethiopian Jews during the mid-late 1980s, its political sway is very different today. Then the objective was to tilt the demographic scale in favour of Jewish immigrants of all races and nationalities, as a means of outnumbering the Palestinian population, so that the state could boast its Jewish character.

Today, however, Israeli politicians and pundits peddle fear of the shockingly termed, "African menace".

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long smeared African asylum seekers as "infiltrators" and a "concrete threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the country," a position echoed from pretty much all corners of Israeli civil and political society, with politicians and pundits on both sides of the spectrum promising to save Israel from the "African menace".

The current government and its supporters are obsessed with ramping up Israel's 70-year ongoing project to transform the country into an island fortress, with the goal of denying entry at all possible points to those fleeing persecution and despair in neighbouring Arab states and the African continent.

"The migration from Africa and from the Palestinian Authority and the Arab states is about to sentence us to death," warned Ilan Tsion, a lobbyist who represents a right-wing political group called 'Fence for Life', with close ties to the Netanyahu government. "Every person that aids foreigners who enter the country is chopping off the tree-branch that we are sitting on and is threatening the lives of every single one of us."

Tsion's ethno-supremacist views have become a consensus position in modern day Israel, while dispossession and expulsion have long operated as the twin engines to the project to create a Jewish only state, one that views non-Jews as a "demographic threat".

This project is not confined to the goal of establishing an exclusively Jewish state, however, but rather, or more accurately, it aims to create and maintain a state for white Jewish people only - a goal that is made clear in the way it has dealt with Jewish migrants from Africa.

In fact, Israel has twisted itself in knots in trying to figure out what to do with what is a self-induced dilemma in dealing with Jews who are black.

Israel is a white settler colonial enterprise built on the notion of being a homeland for the Jewish people, but whereas Israel has bent its immigration laws to allow white Jewish immigrants from Russia, it has passed laws to obstruct those from Ethiopia.

For Ethiopian Jews who made their way successfully to Israel during the two migration waves, a life of state sanctioned and scandalous racism and discrimination has been their fate.

Ethiopian women have been forced to inject long-term 
contraceptives, which by design has caused a plummeting birth rate within the community; blood donated by Ethiopians was secretly destroyed by the government out of racist fears Africans are "disease carriers," while brutal policing policies have unfairly targeted them.

"It is terribly confusing, this combination of being both black and Jewish", writes Efrat Yerday, an Israeli citizen of Ethiopian background. "It is confusing because racism based on skin colour does not differentiate between citizens and non-citizens, between Muslims and Jews, and if Israel is instinctively against blacks then there is no reason it will not be against me too."

David Sheen, a Jewish Canadian journalist who has extensively documented injustices against both African and Ethiopian Jewish immigrants in Israel, observes that hatred of black immigrants is so prevalent in Israeli society today that Ethiopian donkeys are given preferential treatment to actual Ethiopian humans, with preferential immigration status given to the former over the latter.

Tsion's ethno-supremacist views have become a consensus position in modern day Israel

Sheen also asserts that Israel uses Ethiopian Jews as a propaganda tool to conceal its racism against non-white immigrants by claiming it's a "saviour" of Ethiopians.

If any further evidence is required that Israel is determined to prevent what it sees as black immigrants ruining the "Zionist dream," look no further than remarks made by former Internal Affairs Minister Eli Yishai, who warned,

"The [African] migrants are giving birth to hundreds of thousands, and the Zionist dream is dying"; Israel's recent effort to bribe African refugees with plane tickets and cash in exchange for their deportation; or the expansion of migrant detention centers in the Negev, which currently hold more than
8,000 African asylum seekers, indefinitely.

Netanyahu's refusal to honour the government's promise to reunite the remaining Jews in Ethiopia with their families in Israel, is but another cornerstone of Israel's white settler colonial project.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.