Ethiopian students segregatedPicture: Shaul Golan
Very few people in Israel appear to be shocked by the recent disclosure that a religious girls school in the city of Petach Tikvah keeps it’s Ethiopian students segregated from others. The disclosure was noted in local news papers as well as on television, and reported that the school not only separates the girls in a separate classroom, but schedules separate play times for them and even pays to have them taken home by tax in order that they not mix with other students.

This is not the first time this kind of problem has been encountered. A school in the south was reported to have a similar problem in which the students themselves avoided any contact with Ethiopian classmates and even comments by other kids were recorded in which they said that they didn’t want to pay with Ethiopian kids because “they have black skin”. Israel’s Ethiopian community now numbers more than 200,000, due to including groups such as Falasha Murahs who are not considered Jewish according to Halacha religious law. Though the community is scattered over much of Israel, they are more concentrated in cities such as Dimona, Lod, Ashdod, and Netanya. Many of them, especially older males, have great difficulty in finding employment, and those who do find work usually wind up in lower paying jobs such a security guards, cashiers and produce workers in supermarkets, and as street cleaners.

Many Ethiopian families have been split up due to men leaving the house because they cannot find work to support their families. Incidents of crimes such as rape and murder have also been all too common news items since adjustment in Israeli society is difficult for men who used to be farmers and shepherds in their former country, and were considered as “kings of their castles”,

And now, to make matters worse, Ethiopian children are made to feel they are unwanted in a country that used to pride itself in its ability to absorb immigrants from all over the world. Although the situation isn’t like it was in America’s South, or in South Africa in the 1960’s to 1980’s, Ethiopians most often wind up on the short end when it comes to opportunities in The Promised Land. Even those who manage to get an education, and even a profession, have a much harder time advancing than other Israelis. One good example is an Ethiopian lawyer named Yitzhak Dessie who said that he is often mistaken for a security guard when he is seen wearing a white shirt and dark trousers (after a day in court) in a supermarket or department store.

Some Israeli parliamentarians have suggested placing Ethiopian kids in regular public schools instead of the religious ones. After all, it was argued, why should these kids be put in religious schools when other immigrants, particularly those from the former Soviet Union are not. Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz commented that it’s as if the religious establishment is trying to shove religious doctrines “down their throats” while other immigrant kids are left alone.

For the little girls in Petach Tikvah, their formative years are going to wind up with a very bad impression on their lives, not unlike a lot of American blacks growing up in American southern states during the 1950’s and ’60s. A lot of changes have to be made in Israeli society in order for people to become more tolerant. Otherwise, the problem of absorbing Ethiopian Jews will get worse before it gets better.