Wine-ing: about Racism?

On the 10th, of  November, 1975, the United Nations “determined that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”.  The resolution was revoked in 1991 due primarily to the efforts of US Ambassador to the United Nations Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Nonetheless the accusation continues to be hurled against the Jewish State.  One of Israel’s most potent retorts to this baseless accusation has been to point to the miraculous airlifts of Ethiopian Jewry to Israel from the Sudan, in 1984, and war-torn Ethiopia in 1991. No other nation, before of after these marvelous events, has taken people out of Africa, not as slaves but as brothers to be welcomed with open arms.

However, the effectiveness of this reply has been reduced by a string of recent events over the past decade. I have previously written in this blog about the suffering caused by Israel’s delay in bringing the remaining Jews out of Ethiopia. This remains a continuing blot on the human rights record of the Jewish State.  Another event which has damaged Israel’s credibility was the video of an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier in his uniform being beaten by an Israeli policeman. There have been other events over the course of the years which have also been troubling to me and to the rest of the world.

Therefore, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that very recently that there has been another incident demonstrating that at least some Israelis do not believe that the color of your skin has nothing to do with the authenticity of your Judaism.  The Barkan Winery in Israel attempted to expand the market for its product by obtaining kosher supervision of the Edah Hachareidit in addition to the Chief Rabbinate. The Edah Hachareidit demanded that Ethiopian Jews working in the Barkan factory not be allowed to be in not direct contact with the wine, even though these workers were religiously observant.  Why? Because under Jewish law, non-Jews are not allowed to be involved in the production of wine. The Edah Hachareidit took the position that the Ethiopians working in the winery were not Jewish despite the contrary position of the Chief Rabbinate. Rather than forgoing the kashrut seal of Edah Hacharedit which would have resulted in the loss of sales, the company complied with the request.  This is similar, in my point of view, to a US company agreeing not to hire African Americans because it would hurt its sales in the Deep South.

It was reported that the CEO of Barkan acknowledged that he would yield to this discriminatory behavior because of commercial reasons. However, after the facts became known to the public, there was tremendous adverse publicity for Barkan.  It then rescinded its decision, not because it was immoral, but because they thought it would lose more business by acceding to the outrageous demand of the Edah Hachareidit than they would gain from the Edah’s seal of approval.

Thirty-four years ago, the great posek of the 20th century expressed great anguish about the treatment of Ethiopian Jews

because I have heard there are those in Israel who are not drawing them close in spiritual matters and are causing, G-d forbid, that they might be lost from Judaism. And it seems to me these people are behaving so only because the color of the Falashas skin is black.

It appears that nothing has changed.

After the Chief Rabbinate has unequivocally stated numerous times that Ethiopian Jews are completely Jewish, shouldn’t the Edah Chareidit have quelled whatever residual doubts they had to avoid pushing Ethiopian Jews away from Judaism.   Shouldn’t Barkan have refused the unreasonable demand of the Edah Chareidit immediately, rather than wait until the public uproar forced their hand? Don’t people care about the hurt and offense caused to this Jewish community which has suffered so much to remain faithful to the Jewish faith. Do they wish to provide further ammunition to those who claim Zionism is a form of racism?

I am truly disgusted by this incident. So many terrible things have happened to the Ethiopian Jewish community. Our brothers and sisters had to endure enormous hardships before they made Aliyah. They were discriminated in a non-Jewish State because they were Jews.  It is a terrible irony that they are discriminated against in the Jewish State because some people wrongly believe they are not Jewish. more terrible hardship for most of us to handle. Why are we making tens of thousands uncomfortable in our and their own homeland? Make a difference and accept our family and friends with open arms.  Otherwise all of the heroism of the miraculous airlifts, all of the sacrifices Ethiopian Jews made over hundreds of years will become meaningless.

About the Author
Micah Feit Mann is a sixteen-year-old boy living in Atlanta. He visited the Jewish communities of Gondar and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia over a ten-day period in July, 2017 and again in September, 2019. He likes to discuss the issues of the day and appreciates diverse viewpoints. He looks forward to engaging with the broader community through this blog.
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