Black, Jewish and second class

Are Falasha Jews still treated purely as the black ‘other’ and therefore racially insignificant in the Jewish Nation? For just under 10 years between 1984 and the early nineties, a culturally distinct ethnic, nomadic community were evacuated to Israel from Ethiopia.

In many contested debates it is argued that the Falasha Jews were brought to Israel as part of a government policy of rescuing the Black Jews as war was raging in parts of Ethiopia that cut through their land. Other authors describe this flight of the Ethiopian Falasha as state sponsored smuggling by the Israeli government.

It is also presumed that because of the great famine of the 1980s, the Israeli government decided to overtly intervene by removing thousands of their cousins from Ethiopia. It is believed that there are almost 82,000 Jews of Ethiopian decent, born in that country but now resident in Israel.

There are thousands more born in Israel. While the debate is still raging as to why they were brought to Israel, another serious phenomenon has been taking place in the lives of these now first and second generation Falasha Jews.  These people have had to endure different forms of discrimination mainly economic, religious and to a very large extent racial.

The majority of them came to Israel from their small farms existence and traditional nomadic life. So when they were moved to Israel they hardly enjoyed any transformative economic empowerment. Because of lack of formal education for some of them, integration was and still is a key problem in their individual and group dynamics in Israel.

Even at a glimpse, there is no Falasha personality who can be seen as the flag bearer for their success in their new home, Israel. As the wheel of the Israeli economy turns, the conflicts with its neighbours are playing a satirical role for the Falasha people.

In the security apparatus of Israel they are often seen as the afterthought of the military or police. The Palestinian radicals on the other hand, see them just as another obstruction to their fight for a full state solution and an end to occupation of their territories.

To them, the Falasha are a submissive appendage of Israel’s Goliath-David syndrome, where this time, Palestine is the latter. Those who have been recruited to the mandatory military service are of course the young mostly Falasha who were born in Israel.

Speaking to a Palestinian friend who lives in Northern Ireland, it was quite shocking to hear from him that the Falasha cannot give blood or organ donations to the larger Israeli community or hospitals. The racial undertones are quite evident: “These people as black as they are, are still considered Jewish up to a certain point of course, when the issue of blood donations is raised.”

May be it is time a global dimension which is more open should be considered on how to rectify the problems the Ethiopian evacuees, the Falasha are facing in Israel today.

Related Links

Black Jews

Falasha Black Jews of Ethiopia

Oxford Scholarship Online: The Black Jews of Africa