What do Israelis think about Ethiopian immigrants?
One third of Israelis “would not marry an Ethiopian Jew and would not want any family member to do so,” according to data from a recent survey commissioned by Israelis Against Racism. The disturbing data further revealed that “22% believe the Jewish religious identity of Ethiopians is questionable,” and 16% “did not want to live in the same building or even the same neighborhood as Ethiopian Jews.” Despite living as part of Israeli society for more than 40 years, the amount of racism in Israel toward the Ethiopian community is still astounding.
Sadly, the painful survey results do not entirely surprise me. When I immigrated to Israel in the early 1970s, the theater, cinema and TV programs were peppered with the poison of racist humor: Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Persian, Moroccan and Kurdish Jews would all poke fun at each other. The air of the country was soaked with ethnic ridicule, which I found disgusting.
Add to the general atmosphere of insensitive humor at the expense of ethnic newcomers, the long marginalization Israel’s Ethiopian-Jewish community faced regarding their Jewish status, differences in mentality and culture, and the barriers that have prevented full Ethiopian integration into Israeli society become clear.
As if that is still insufficient, there is a human tendency to be suspicious of anyone who looks different from us, speaks a foreign language, and holds customs foreign to ours. I saw this in myself when, as a child, I gaped at the strange Georgian fruit sellers in the Leningrad markets only to be shocked to discover when I grew up that they were fellow Jews.
In many ways, Israel is a microcosm of the increasingly globalized world in which we live. Israelis literally come from all over the world, each with our unique cultures, characters and approaches to life. We are Asian, European, American, Latin, Middle Eastern, and African all packed together onto a tiny piece of land, in a hostile neighborhood, under great pressure, and as such, cannot be expected to get along without frictions.
However, Israelis can learn to appreciate and complement each other, and we must—for ourselves, and as an example to the world that needs to learn this skill just as badly as we do. However, it is going to take more than political pacts, religious policy changes, and positive public icons to unite us. Unity above our differences requires consistent methodical education. Education is a necessary precedent to complete the healing of the general rift in Israeli society and the fragmentation that destroys us on a daily basis.
Over many generations, Kabbalists have devised an educational method specifically suited for our times and circumstances. It teaches us how to recognize the divisive egoistic drives within us, making us connect to stigmas and nationalities instead of transcending them with unifying values above the differences. What the struggles of Israel’s Ethiopian-Jewish community can show us is the extent to which we live in denial of discrimination, and the true extent of conflict and separation among the Jewish people.
Primary to this form of education is the learning of how to pattern society according to the laws of nature—laws of connection, giving, equality and love. By comprehending how nature works to unify all of its parts, we can apply the same altruistic tendency to realize true balance in Israel’s pluralistic society.
By acknowledging divisive drives as part and parcel of human nature, we can then use such tendencies to build a new layer of positive connections upon them, according to the principle, “love will cover all transgressions.”
The heartbreaking statistics of discrimination against Israel’s Ethiopian-Jewish community should highlight the extent of the division in Israeli society, how much it hurts us, and the need for us to unite above it. We need no more than to be aware of the division that tramples our unity, and then springboard to a reconstruction of a new unified society above our differences “as one man with one heart.”