For Israel, Black Ethiopian Jews are not Jewish enough

For Israel, Black Ethiopian Jews are not Jewish enough
The racism faced by Ethiopian Jews reveals Israel's true nature not as a state for all Jews, but as one built on white supremacy, writes Richard Sudan.
5 min read
12 Jan, 2024
Israel's racism towards its own Black communities suggests that not all Jews fit its demographic project, writes Richard Sudan. [Getty]

The mask had slipped a long time ago. But now, it has well and truly fallen.

Prior to 7 October, much of the world had already finally accepted the conditions in Palestine for what they truly are: a brutal military occupation and system of apartheid.

Many of the world’s biggest human rights organisations, including UN bodies, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International had defined Israel as such.

But the last few months have revealed Israel’s settler-colonial occupation to be more than that. 

Israel’s relentless and indiscriminate attack on Gaza has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians in just three months. Israel has deliberately targeted hospitals and schools where civilians are taking shelter, and prevented all aid, water, food, medical supplies and fuel from entering the Strip. 

"Israel has a long track record of treating some of its own Jewish communities as second class citizens"

Occupation and apartheid are not enough to describe what is happening. This is a genocide.

From the beginning, Israeli officials have been clear of their aim to push all Palestinians out of Gaza. More recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other figures in the Israeli kleptocracy have suggested moving the entire population of Gaza to places like Congo or Rwanda.

Some in the mainstream press are describing this potential cruel barbaric policy as ‘voluntary migration’.

The real plan of course, as has been executed, and which is blindingly obvious, is to make Gaza so uninhabitable that Palestinians have no choice but to accept their own expulsion.

Such blatant racism, ethnic cleansing and colonial design by Israel isn’t simply extended or confined to its treatment of Palestinians. Israel has a long track record of treating some of its own Jewish communities as second class citizens.

Since the 1970s, Ethiopian Jews have migrated to Israel in large numbers. Today, there are more than 160,000 in Israel. Decades ago, bolstering the numbers suited Israel’s aims because it added legitimacy to the idea of a homeland for Jews.

But as the number of Ethiopian Jews in Israel grew in the following decades, however, so too did Israel’s concerns.

Under Israel’s Law of Return, any Jew anywhere in the world has the right to immigrate to Israel. But there’s one notable exemption - Ethiopian Jews. 

For years, Ethiopian Jews have been blocked from joining their relatives living in Israel, while other white Jewish migrants and refugees from Ukraine have been welcomed in their thousands. 

Put simply, Ethiopian Jews have the wrong skin colour for Israel’s ethno-religious demographic project to be considered fully Jewish.

This racist reality casts doubt on the notion of a Jewish state, the entire basis of Israel’s claim to legitimacy. 

Naysayers might point to those Ethiopian Jews in relative positions of comfort in Israel as evidence of equality, but those of us born in places such as the United Kingdom or the United States understand this thinking to be a farce. Any society can only be judged by how it treats the majority of a group, and not a minority among it.

Ethiopian Jews in Israel have consistently experienced lower wages in the job market and much higher levels of unemployment generally. This community, just as is the case in the rest of the Western world, experience much higher levels of police brutality, arrest rates and ultimately incarceration.

In 2015, mass protests erupted in Tel Aviv over police brutality sparked by the beating of Ethiopian Israeli soldier Damas Pakada by Israeli police.  

"The reality is that Israel is clearly no safe haven for all Jews. It is a safe haven for white Jews who uncritically tow the colonial line"

In 2019, further Black Lives Matter protests took place after 18-year-old Ethiopian Israeli Solomon Teka was shot and killed by an off duty Israeli police officer.

It’s worth remembering here too that both Israeli police forces and American police forces have trained together. As the saying goes, ‘birds of a feather flock together’.

Of course, anti-black racism in Israel does not distinguish between Jew, non-Jew, legal migrant or otherwise. In 2018 two Israelis were convicted of beating to death a Sudanese asylum seeker, Babikir Ali Adham-Abdo. Sadly there are many other similar examples and similar cases.

Perhaps most alarming of all was the revelation some years ago that Israel had been forcibly injecting Ethiopian women with birth control drugs without their consent, making them unable to have children.

Israel literally wanted to stop black Jewish potential mothers from having babies in Israel.

The disparities reflecting the inferior treatment of black Ethiopian Jews continue in virtually every other area of life, including housing, educational attainment, and more.

The reality is that Israel is clearly no safe haven for all Jews. It is a safe haven for white Jews who uncritically tow the colonial line. Even Orthodox Jews that speak out against their government’s apartheid and express solidarity with Palestinians are routinely beaten by police.

We cannot deny that even though they face discrimination Ethiopian Jews in Israel are often agents of Israel’s colonisation and apartheid against Palestinians.

But understanding the structural racism they face helps to reveal the true nature of Israel as a colonial, white supremacist project.

Richard Sudan is a journalist and writer specialising in anti-racism and has reported on various human rights issues from around the world. His writing has been published by The Guardian, Independent, The Voice and many others.

Follow him on Twitter: @richardsudan

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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.