Two Ethiopians enter Knesset, Israel’s parliament


Ruth Eglash, THE JERUSALEM POST

It’s been nearly 10 years since the country had an Ethiopian MK (Member of Knesset) — Labor’s Adisu Messele, who held a seat from 1996 to 1999 — but within the last three months two Ethiopian MKs have taken up the challenge. In February, longtime Ethiopian community leader and former Jewish Agency aliya professional Shlomo Mula joined the Kadima list. Less than two weeks ago, Rabbi Mazor Bayana, head of a 10,000-strong Beersheba congregation, took up a Shas seat.

Shlomo Mula
MK Shlomo Mula
Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski

And while their personal aims and agendas might conflict in the political sphere, one thing the Knesset’s two newest members agree upon is that it’s about time the 110,000-strong Ethiopian community here was represented in the hallways of parliament.

“I’m very happy there is another [Ethiopian] MK and I hope that in the future there will many more,” says Mula, sitting proudly behind a wooden desk in his new Knesset office. “It’s very important for us to show the younger generation in our community that it can be done, that we can be successful in Israeli society.”

While Bayana agrees with Mula’s assessment of leading by example and while the two MKs point out that their community, among the country’s weakest socially and economically, needs immediate attention, that is pretty much where their similarities end.

“I don’t really agree with Shas’s policies. I think they actually cause more social problems with all their hand-outs than solve them,” says Mula. “I plan to focus on the social issues facing my community and Israel in general. I want to be the voice of the people, all people.”

For Bayana, who replaced Shlomo Benizri, his first task is to challenge the government’s intention to wind down the aliya operation in Ethiopia.

“I am already planning a trip to take [Industry, Trade and Labor Minister and Shas leader] Eli Yishai to assess the situation in Gondar,” says the softly-spoken Bayana. “I also plan to invite [Sephardi Chief Rabbi] Shlomo Amar and Ethiopian Rabbi Yosef Adaneh.

“We have no intention of bringing those who are not eligible under the government’s criteria,” points out Bayana. “However, we still need to figure out how to help those who feel they are eligible but have not yet been assessed.”

The issue of Ethiopian aliya, or the immigration of the remaining Falash Mura – Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity under duress more than a century ago – has been a contentious one in recent months. Government and Jewish Agency representatives claim that the process of determining who is eligible to immigrate according to the Law of Entry and convert here will be over by the end of this year. However, many community members already living here claim there are at least another 9,000 people who should be considered.

“At the moment the entire process is not good,” states Bayana, who has not returned to his homeland since leaving as a child in 1984’s Operation Moses. “The people waiting in Gondar have already left their homes and are just waiting there to see if they can make aliya. Israel is talking about closing the gates but it’s not as simple as that; this problem really needs to be dealt with properly.”

SHLOMO MULA

For Mula, the main problems facing his community and the wider population in general are social ones.

“I don’t really want to deal with the issue of the Falash Mura,” he says. “Instead, I want to focus on the people from my community who are already living here. I want to push for full integration.”

Mula, who made aliya at 17, also as part of Operation Moses, decries the dismal conditions of many members of his community.

According to the most recent data from the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, two-thirds of all Ethiopian immigrants are in need of assistance and in some towns, close to 90 percent require such care. Research has also shown that close to 75 percent of Ethiopian families live below the poverty line.

“I want to help people who are earning minimum wage and address the fact that there are simply not enough social workers to help the community,” says Mula, who previously worked for the Immigrant Absorption Ministry and was elected to an executive position in the World Zionist Organization. “We also need to address the looming food shortages. I have already led a discussion on this issue in the Knesset. We cannot let the price of basic food staples such as bread, rice and milk rise so high.

“There is also the issue of mortgages for young Ethiopian couples and how to break up the low-income neighborhoods where Ethiopian families have congregated, such as Kiryat Moshe [near Rehovot] and make sure the community is spread out more evenly.”

While Ethiopian issues are never far from his mind, Mula also likes cast his net even wider, saying that he is heavily involved in Kadima’s efforts to make peace with the Palestinians and to help build diplomatic relations with the African continent.

But Mula is emphatic of his main goals.

“I want to create a museum to showcase Ethiopian Jewry’s rich history and culture,” he states. “We need to have such a center to instill pride in our people and teach Israelis about our past.”

At the same time, Mula believes that more needs to be done to incorporate Ethiopians into the country’s power base.

In recent months, The Jerusalem Post has reported on the unfair testing system used by the Civil Service, with culturally biased tests automatically disqualifying Ethiopian-born candidates from qualifying for certain government positions.

“I plan to push for a drastic change to the way civil servants are tested,” says Mula, who claims to have already called for a meeting with the heads of the Civil Service. “It is absurd that a man who is brought up in another culture must endure a test designed for someone else. The questions on these tests in no way reflect a person’s capability to do the job.”

He acknowledges similar cultural barriers in other employment sectors and says he’s intent on finding ways to lead “17,000 [Ethiopian] academics who are currently not working in their professions but who must find work as security guards and other low-level positions.”

“I want to see young Ethiopians everywhere,” he finishes. “I want them involved in business and politics at all levels from city council up to other key positions.”

RABBI MAZOR BAYANA

While the Falash Mura issue weighs heavily on his mind, Bayana, who studied at Porat Yosef, one of the most prestigious Sephardi yeshivot, is also focused on helping the community already here.

“My community makes up some of the country’s weakest segments and I hope to raise the subject of aliya and immigration in public consciousness,” he says. “I want to go out into the field and meet with leaders of the community to see what are the real issues and learn from the people themselves about how we can make improvements.”

If the problems facing his community are so acute, how can Bayana justify his primary focus on bringing in more new immigrants from Ethiopia?

“The absorption process is not straightforward but Israel has had enough experience in dealing with immigration and if we all work hard we should be able to improve the situation.

“I think we are too impatient. Success will not be achieved in a year. [The new immigrants] can’t do everything – learn Hebrew and Judaism, and make the necessary cultural adjustments – in just one year. It will take time.”

However, there are certain problems in the long-term process that Bayana recognizes need to be tackled immediately, such as the Chief Rabbinate’s stipulation that the children of Falash Mura immigrants must attend schools in the National Religious education system while their parents are converting to Judaism, thus creating problems for successful integration.

“That is one of the goals of our [forthcoming] trip to Gondar, to see if there is a possibility to start the conversion process over there,” he explains. “We know about the distribution problem of Ethiopian pupils in the education system and realize that in certain locations there are simply not enough places in religious schools. We are aware of the problem but the solution really needs to come from the rabbinate.”

He says that his first week in the Knesset has been “very moving. I have been in the political system for many years. And it feels like the right time for me to be in this position. A lot of important decisions are made here and this is a big chance for me to help the people of Israel.”


2 comments on “Two Ethiopians enter Knesset, Israel’s parliament

  1. yikerebelen on

    Mr Mulla, congratulation. but sitting the israel’s parliament in the name of 110,000 is not enough. you need to work hard to protect their rights to have good education, healthy care, more access to the medias, like theuy need to have TV and radio in their language [amharic or orromogna] news papers and magizines and school in their language. they must preserve their ethiopia’s languages. sooner or later you will come and join ethiopians. further more these two ethiopia’s parliametary’s members must defend ethiopia’s interst in israel and must protectethiopia’s gedams from israel’s illegal giving to it’s muslim new ally egypt. we , ethiopians want to see more highly ranked or diplomates from ethiopia’s jewes. what we seenow almost all ethiopia’s young generation is carrying Israel’s gun to protect israel from arabs.

  2. Assta B. Gettu on

    The Ethiopian Black Jews are the chosen people of God like any other Jews but the White European Jews

    Weakness brings with it strength, hope, and finally victory, and victory brings confidence, prosperity, and happiness.

    When the Israelis were in Egypt for four hundred years, they were weak, hopeless, and slaves of the Egyptian masters. They had never thought that one day the Almighty God would give them a strong leader that would lead them out of Egypt to the desert land – Sinai, and from Sinai to the promised land of Canaan.

    At present, some of their children, the one hundred and ten thousand Ethiopian black Jews, have been without effective leaders while staying in Israel, isolated from the so called European white Jews. While in Egypt, their ancestors were isolated from the pagan Egyptians, which is not strange for a Jew to be separated from the pagan world. What is so strange, so bizarre, and so peculiar for the normal person to understand and to comprehend is to see that the Ethiopian black Jews are isolated and separated from the other European white Jews.

    When they left Ethiopia and settled in Israel, the Ethiopian black Jews never thought the European white Jews would isolate them because of their colors. Since then they have been living in isolation from the rest of the European white Jewish community without an effective leader. As a result of this isolation, they have prayed to God to give them a leader able to break the barrier between the Ethiopian black Jews and the European white Jews – a good leader like Moses who separated the Red Sea apart and let that desperate and faithless nation of ancient Israel cross the deep sea safely.

    Indeed God listens to the prayers of the righteous person, and that is why he gave to these isolated, segregated, despised, and neglected Ethiopian black Jews three dynamic leaders from their own communities to lead them, uplift their broken spirits, and have confidence in them selves because they have a history to tell the world that they are free people from a free nation, and let the European white Jews know this remarkable history of the Ethiopian black Jews.

    The three leaders God lifted up from a despised and overlooked Ethiopian black Jewish community and sent to the Member of the Knesset to carry out the multifarious duties of the Ethiopian black Jews in Israel are Adisu Messele, Shlomo Mula, and Rabbi Mazor Bayana. The last two of the three are brand new to the MK, and God, who weighed the sufferings of his people – the Ethiopian black Jews – is going to raise more effective leaders like the old three – Moses, Aaron, and Mariam.

    These three Ethiopian black Jewish leaders, however, may have different approaches to the solving of the problems their communities are facing. Even though whatever differences they may have in their approaches to the problems of their communities, one thing is clear that they all agree the European white Jews hate the Ethiopian black Jews for what ever reason; the Ethiopian black Jews are discriminated by the European white Jews and disqualified for any job they are qualified to. That is why over 17,000 well qualified college graduate young Ethiopian black Jews could not find any descent and stable jobs except menial jobs such as dishwashing, housekeeping, and stationing as a security guard at some one’s hotel, motel, and prisons. Most of them cannot get government position because they have been purposely disqualified for failing the test prepared and designed for someone else but forced to take it in order to get a high paying job.

    The inequality between the Ethiopian black Jews and the White European Jews will continue until these three Ethiopian black Jewish leaders change it through their hard work for their communities. They must work hard to reform the Civil Service Testing System; they must work hard to assign all college graduate Ethiopian black Jews to a good job in their areas; they must work hard to reduce the poverty level among the Ethiopian black Jews from 75% to 1% within few years; they must work hard that the Ethiopian black Jews must not change their Ethiopian sacred names in order to be qualified as a real Jew; they must work hard that alia should not be closed until the last Jew in Ethiopia has left his native land and joined with the rest of the Ethiopian black Jews in Israel; they must work hard that the Ethiopian black Jewish children should learn both Amharic and Hebrew; and finally they must work hard that the Jewishness of the Ethiopian black Jews is pure, original, and superior to the European white Jewishness.

    These three leaders of the Ethiopian Jewish community have great responsibilities in bringing the other Ethiopian black Jews to the land of Israel, but in my opinion, they must take care of the ones who are already there in Israel before they attempt to take the rest of the Ethiopian black Jews from Ethiopia. Why someone could add a misery to another misery before he/she avoids the first misery. It is far better for the Ethiopian black Jews to stay in Ethiopia until the race problem in hiring and firing Ethiopian black Jews is over and until all Ethiopian black Jews in Israel are considered humans like the other European white Jews in the land of the Jews.

    So let the remaining Ethiopian black Jews stay in Ethiopia for a while, and let Rabbi Mazor Bayana be patient and should not, at this time, insist the MK to bring all the Ethiopian black Jews to Israel; he should first remember the saying in Amharic: “yabai wonz lerasu maderia yellew giend yizo yizoral.” Therefore, Rabbi Bayana must recognize the big problem his people are facing in Israel before he tries to bring the other Ethiopian black Jews to the land of Israel and exacerbate the existing Ethiopian black Jewish problem in Israel. By the way Rabbi Bayana is welcomed to visit Ethiopia and meet with his Ethiopian black Jews and learn their ways of life in Ethiopia and decide for him self either to take them or leave them where they are.

    Any way, Yahweh will give to the three of you the wisdom to speak to your people, to encourage them, to give them hope, to teach them that they are the children of God, and to tell them that they have come from a proud and beautiful country. You must tell them that they have three homes: one in Ethiopia, one in Jerusalem, and one in heaven, and have them always read the book of your prophet Zechariah, Chapter 8; this is a chapter of hope for all the Jews, and especially for the Ethiopian black Jews.

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