Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ)
On September 21, 2003, the Israeli government created
a taskforce to improve the school system in Israel, through the initiative of
the Minister of Education, Culture, and Sport, Limor Livnat, with the support
of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The taskforce,
known as the Dovrat Commission, began its work in October 2003. The taskforce
was asked not evaluate the existing school system, but to recommend a complete
remodeling of the system - structurally, organizationally, and pedagogically -
and to implement their recommendations.
When we found out about the taskforce,
IAEJ, in conjunction with other agencies who work for the Ethiopian community,
published a position paper in which we asked to collaborate with the Commission
on issues relating to students of Ethiopian descent, and in which we asked to
place a representative of the Ethiopian community on the taskforce. Simultaneously,
we conducted a joint study of the report with organizations which deal with the
absorption of Ethiopian immigrants. We requested to meet with the Dovrat Commission,
which they granted. They also accepted relevant materials from us on immigrant
students. The Executive Director of IAEJ, Batia Eyob, now sits on the section
of the commission which deals with immigrant students and teachers, and is taking
great strides towards improving every area which deals with Ethiopian students.
Tesfa' Youth Group
In Ashdod, a group of young people
volunteer their time as part of the youth group 'No'ar Tesfa' (translated as youth
of hope - Tesfa means hope in Amharic). Its goal is to support and advise other
teenagers and children from the Ethiopian community. Their volunteer activities
include tutoring children in their school work, as well as preparing and running
social and cultural activities in local community centers where they live. Every
three months they produce a newspaper called 'No'ar Tesfa,' which highlights the
accomplishments and aspirations of Ethiopian youth in Israel, and also explores
some of the problems relating to youth in the Ethiopian community.
is no doubt that this work strengthens the community and increases the youth's
motivation to advance themselves and integrate into Israeli society. IAEJ supports
'No'ar Tesfa' through advising, guidance, and through all other resources that
we are able to give. A community worker from the IAEJ moderates meetings with
the members of 'No'ar Tesfa' on a weekly basis. One example of the wonderful work
these young people do is the struggle against the principal of the Tzemach B school,
who segregated Ethiopian students into their own classes.
This school established
two courses of study: one was an ultra-Orthodox ("Torani") track called
the Yishai School, which was made up of less than 5% Ethiopian students. In contrast,
the second track was a Religious Public School track ("Mamlachti Dati").
That program was 70% Ethiopian. Under the leadership of this principal were both
of these segregated programs, and in the hallway was an iron gate between the
two sections of the school. The students also were forced to enter through different
doors in order that the two student populations did not come into contact with
Through the struggle of 'No'ar Tesfa' youth, that school was closed,
and the students were reassigned to different area schools.
But today, the
battle against that principal continues. He was made principal of the Moriah School,
in which most of the students are of Ethiopian descent. He continues to abuse
and treat unfairly Ethiopian students. A complaint was brought against him to
the police by the parents of the students who experienced this mistreatment, and
he was removed from the Moriah School as well. But he was allowed to return after
the period of suspension. Last year, on the Ethiopian-Jewish holiday of Sigd,
IAEJ supported 'No'ar Tesfa' in collecting a huge number of signatures demanding
the complete dismissal of this principal. This chapter has not yet come to a close,
but the youth activists of 'No'ar Tesfa' continue to fight for the principal to
be permanently removed from the school system.
In the beginning of 2000, a joint endeavor known as the
Ethiopian National Project was begun through the initiative of a number of international
Jewish organizations, the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee - Israel,
and the Israeli government. The goal of this project is "to bring about the
absorption of Ethiopian immigrants into Israeli society, so that they integrate
into all sectors and areas of Israeli life like all other Israeli citizens"
(Dolev, Fogel, and Shote, 2000). The project was supposed to be given funds of
660 million dollars over nine years, half of which was meant to be donated by
non-Israeli Jewish organizations, and the other half was to come from the state
Prime Ministers Barak and Sharon blessed the initiative and promised
to give their half of the funds. It must be pointed out that the idea for the
ENP came from a collaboration of the JDC, Jewish Federations (UJAs) in the United
States, the Jewish Agency, and the Israeli government. Among the 35 coalition
members, there was not a single representative of the Ethiopian community.
Already in the preliminary stages of crystallizing the project, IAEJ recognized
that, despite the seriousness of the initiators, and even though the project was
meant to benefit and promote the Ethiopian community, the lack of Ethiopian community
representation in every stage of the program was not acceptable. IAEJ expressed
strong protest of the lack of collaboration, with the agreement of other representative
voices in the Ethiopian community, and demanded real partnership with the community
which the project claimed to serve. The protest was heard and significant changes
were made, including the introduction of Ethiopian representatives and organizations
into the coalition.
Achievements so far:
In the first three months
of 2001, IAEJ, with the support and collaboration of Shatil (the non-profit consulting
arm of the New Israel Fund) lead the process of conceiving of the culling, deliberating
about, and distribution of "community representatives" from amongst
the NGOs, from members of the community, and civil service workers, or from among
JDC, the other collaborators, the donors and foundations.
March 2, 2001, the various NGOs which work for the Ethiopian community in Israel
held elections, through the assistance of Shatil, and elected ten representatives
to the Ethiopian National Project.
- IAEJ recruited a
field worker to improve the understanding of the ENP among the Ethiopian population
and to increase the involvement of the community in the ENP.
the purposes of representation, IAEJ pushed for the establishment of set goals,
objectives, and strategies for each of the demographics served by the project
(young children, youth, adolescents, senior citizens).
the purposes of representation, lobbied for the establishment of "best practices"
in the building of the yearly work plan for 2004, and specifically for the programming
done for at-risk youth. At the request of the project's leadership, we supplied
appropriate materials which were creating by IAEJ.
the 2004 ENP elections, IAEJ's Executive Director Batia Eyob was voted into the
second position out of four representatives who will act as the main collaborators
with the ENP. She is a member of their board, on the finance commission, and on
the leadership council. These three positions all give IAEJ the power to greatly
impact the direction of ENP.
- At the General Assembly
(the yearly conference of the UJA), IAEJ's Executive Director was chosen to present
the ENP program "SPACE". This choice indicates the important role that
IAEJ plays in the Ethiopian National Project.
- The involvement and representation of
the Ethiopian community in the decision-making arm of the ENP is far more advanced
now than it was at the initial conception of the project.
we have no doubt that, if not for our intensive investment of putting pressure
on, and trying to affect change in, the organization of the ENP, the Ethiopian
community would not have the voice necessary to have their actual needs met by
- IAEJ and its collaborators, through their
representation on the ENP and their hard work with the various bodies involved
in the ENP, continues to increase the involvement of the Ethiopian community on
various levels, both nationally and locally. This work was made possible by a
wide variety of organizations, coalitions, and groups of Ethiopian-Israelis on
the grassroots level. The representative body held elections according to municipal
boundaries in order that the people chosen would be those who could affect change
in their own locales.
- In 2003, ENP chose six regions
as their initial areas of focus: Netanya, Rechovot, Lod, Hadera, Be'er Sheva,
and Kiryat Gat. In 2004, the project chose specific programs with which to begin
its work. The leadership chose to focus on adolescents, ages 12-18, and to train
various Ethiopian organizations and grassroots groups how to advocate for their
own needs and to affect the governance in their own towns. These projects were
implemented, and began in 2005.
Comprehensive Report, entitled "The Grade: Absorbing with Difficulty":
This report deals with the integration of Ethiopian adolescents in high school.
IAEJ organized a national conference at the end of April 2005. Participants included
policy makers, social workers, community organizations, educators, media professionals,
This report is the follow to IAEJ's February 1998 report entitled
"Absorbing or Dropping Out," which sought to point out the central trends
in the absorption of Ethiopian adolescents in post-elementary educational systems.
The intention was to bring to the attention of the community and policy makers
an accurate picture of the situation of the Ethiopian community.
first report, this report is based on statistics that we collected from six local
schools and eleven boarding schools, and statistics collected from other bodies,
that we have put together to form a complete picture. The statistics that we have
collected were publicized through media channels, and created ripples within society.
The issues were discussed within the Knesset and its various commissions. The
report is still used as a learning tool and is publicized to community and media
for Supporters for the Employment of Ethiopian-Israeli Academics
came about as a joint venture between IAEJ and the coordinator for Ethiopian-Israeli
academic employment from the office of the Student Administration. It took place
on July 23, 2005 in Tel Aviv. IAEJ took part in organizing this conference because
it saw the great importance of advancing the cause of academic employment, and
believes that the establishment of this type of caucus can open doors to academics
Seventy people participated in this conference, all of whom
successfully integrated into the Israeli economic system through various types
of employment. They all have influential positions in their places of work, and
amongst themselves, they would like to create an encouraging working atmosphere
for Ethiopian academics. To this caucus we invited executive directors, doctors,
lawyers, businessmen, actors, city council members, high-tech professionals, and
As a result of this conference, about 27 academics of Ethiopian descent
found work in various fields under the idea "a worker brings a friend."
of implementation of the 1997 government policy on Ethiopian community employment
in the in the social arena.
This year, we were able
to open the lines of communication between IAEJ and the civil service superintendent,
who is charged with the implementation of government policy. In order to ameliorate
the employment problems of young Ethiopian-Israeli academics, the government passed
a policy in 1997 to integrate 17 academics of Ethiopian descent into the framework
of the civil service. According to the decision, these 17 academics were supposed
to enter the civil service workforce within the year.
This policy was accepted
under the framework of the ministers' commission on issues of immigrant absorption.
The civil service superintendent was responsible for bringing the policy to reality
in conjunction with the government justice advisor.
That same year, the commission
cut the special budget which was to be used to implement the new policy. When
the government simply did nothing and did not implement its policy to appoint
Ethiopian workers to the civil service, IAEJ began a campaign to force its implementation.
As a result of our work, a television station interviewed MK Michael Eitan and
a representative of IAEJ on the issue of Ethiopian civil service employment. MK
Michael Eitan promised that he would try to push for the implementation of this
law. The proposed law requiring equal representation for Ethiopians in the civil
service passed with the support of the government.
A number of years ago, when IAEJ decided to place emphasis on at-risk
youth and the implications bound up in the issue of Ethiopian at-risk youth, the
issue was not a hot topic in the community or amongst community organizations.
As a result of our work, though, these and other interested parties recognized
the serious implications of the problem of at-risk youth in the Ethiopian community.
rise of this topic to the top of the education agenda amongst community organizations,
donors, and Knesset commissions added to the growing strength of the claim against
the educational system that it must act to improve the situation of at-risk youth.
worked to advocate for Ethiopian Jews in the Knesset and presented the statistics
from the report "Absorbing with Difficulty," published by our research
department. IAEJ's activities towards making this issue a daily talking point
amongst the political community, in community organizations, media outlets and
Knesset commissions, and its expressing protest that the situation for Ethiopian-Israeli
teens was continuously deteriorating, has succeeded in that today, it is an issue
addressed by all of these establishments.
The ministry of absorption place
added emphasis on the issue of at-risk youth. The leaders of the Ethiopian National
Project chose to focus their narrowed goals on children ages 12-18. Even NGOs
working for immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU) placed pressure on the
school system, through Knesset commissions, in collaboration with IAEJ.
the help of MKs who themselves are immigrants from the FSU, the issue received
appropriate - and even above and beyond - attention, by uniting all of our efforts.
For example, the bill introduced by MK Yasinoff passed on its first reading. It
was deliberated upon by the education commission, and IAEJ presented statistics
on the over-referral of Ethiopian immigrant children to special education.
Influence of the Media on the Public's Perception of Ethiopian Immigrants
IAEJ initiated a community opinion poll which investigated how the media influences
public perception of Ethiopian immigrants. The survey was done by the Geocartography
We decided to collect information for this poll because we wanted
to know what level of impact media has on the common image Israelis have of Ethiopians,
since the media is one of the main mediators between members of the Ethiopian
community and Israeli society at large.
The survey was first publicized on
the day of learning with took place on October 28, 2004. It was entitled "The
Ethiopian Community in the Media's View." The poll's findings sparked much
interest during the conference. The report, also publicized through written and
electronic media, including in a Yediot Achronot newspaper article, on Channel
2 news, on the "New Evening" program of Channel 1, reverberated throughout
greater Israeli society, in the following ways:
newspapers, and foreign academics turned to IAEJ in order to get copies of the
survey and use its findings.
- A number of media personalities
joined together to write an article entitled "B'ayin Hashvi'it" (meaning,
"the seventh eye") regarding negative images which the media propagates
in relation to the Ethiopian community.
- The Knesset
commission on absorption and immigration received the findings of the survey and
requested to organize a discussion on the issue.
in-depth report was published about the conference and the issues of the community
in media in the Hebrew-Amharic newspaper "Yediot Negat" ("Morning
news"), published by the Center for Directing Ethiopian Immigrants.
magazine "Kav Haofek" ("Horizon") dealt with the issue of
Ethiopians and the Israeli media.
- The survey was also
published on IAEJ's website so that people will have accurate information available
to use in order to further the issue.
Coalition for Ethiopian-Israeli NGOs
A coalition of the
chairpersons of seven NGOs met with a representative of IAEJ. The advantage of
a coalition is that is allows different Ethiopian non-profits to work together.
Beforehand, they worked not only separately, but also antagonistically, as when
one group's work entered into the domain of another, it created much friction.
This prevented all of the organizations from making real changes for the community.
Through the intensive activities of IAEJ's representative, who conveyed to the
NGOs leaders that their goals needed to be for the best of the community, the
organizations agreed to collaborate with the other NGOs. Today, each NGO works
in a distinct field which it specializes in, but each one brings its annual work
plan to the coalition, and together they all create a book so that each organization
knows what the others will be doing that year.
Currently, the members of the
coalition are working to expand the circle of coalition members. Eight new bodies
are potentially going to join the coalition. IAEJ's representative approaches
these bodies and explains to the mission and importance of the coalition and what
their responsibilities and obligations would be upon joining. Fundamentally, joining
the coalition means recognizing and respecting the activities of other NGOs --
an understanding which could not have been reached without the active participation
IAEJ receives many requests from Ethiopian-Israelis living all over
the state of Israel. Some are requests for monetary support, others deal with
debts which they have accrued through various means, and must repay or defer.
Some ask for legal help in relation to the authorities or private individuals.
These requests are answered with advice and directions on how to work with the
appropriate authorities on these issues.
Requests which are in areas outside
the expertise of IAEJ are directed towards organizations which can appropriately
handle them. Legal assistance is also given by the government as part of the Legal
Support Law, according to the rules set down by that law, and therefore IAEJ will
follow up with those requesting assistance after we aid them.
of our department is that services are rendered by professional members of the
Ethiopian-Israeli community, unlike in many other NGOs here. The requests which
come in to IAEJ reveal the problems which point to trends in rights abuses against
Ethiopian-Israelis or lack of implementation of rights established by governmental
laws. Similarly, incidents of abuse against the Ethiopian immigrant population
are a result of a lack of laws, standards, and arrangements between employers
and employees. Therefore, IAEJ works for legal change and policy change through
public and governmental advocacy. Over the course of last year, about 100 requests
were received by IAEJ.
In the last years, the main actors
who work within the community united, and created a coalition to advance the immediate
integration of Ethiopians in the educational sphere. IAEJ was the central mover
in the creation of the educational coalition, which now runs integration activities
with local authorities in ten areas which have large Ethiopian populations.
five years, IAEJ ran an information center for Ethiopian adolescents. The center
is located at the main bus terminal in Tel Aviv in order to tackle the serious
crisis of students dropping out of the school system. The services offered include
counseling, referrals, continual guidance, and general support and encouragement.
As such, this information center was utilized as the source for raising social
awareness of the problems of youth in crisis and at-risk youth. Indeed, we succeeded
in conveying information about this terrible phenomenon not only to the community
itself, but also to policy makers. Many organizations began projects to deal with
this problem, which we had made known. For example, the NGO Elem began the "Hafuch
al Hafuch" ("Change upon Change") program. As soon as IAEJ realized
its goal of raising awareness on the issue, we decided to pass over the actual
center to an organization which worked on large-scale community programming, and
therefore, in 2000, the center was turned over to the NGO "Fidel."
of the most important policies that deals with the absorption of Ethiopian immigrants
is the giving of special mortgages to the immigrants. This policy was first designed
and implemented under former Minister of Absorption Yair Tzvi. Of the organizations
that toiled for the establishment of this policy, IAEJ's work, and work of the
union of Ethiopian-Israeli non-profits, truly stands out.
led the unceasing struggle against the education ministry and asked the ministry
to undertake a study on the allocation of resources allotted to Ethiopian immigrant
students. To this end, IAEJ along with four other NGOs established an oversight
committee, charging themselves with the advancement of Ethiopian immigrant education.
This staff worked opposite the Education ministry's professional staff. The main
focus of committee's work was "efficient utilization of an immigrant's time,"
which takes up a large portion of the budget for Ethiopian immigrants in the education
ministry. The committee put out a report with their recommendations, and in 2001,
the report reached the hands of former Minister of Education, MK Yossi Sarid.
A number of the recommendations were implemented. The group's work was an important
break-through, in that this was the first time that the ministry of education
responded to internal criticism on the topic of the Ethiopian community and created
a positive infrastructure with which to improve its work.
advocacy efforts have enabled thousands of students to study in academic rather
than vocational programs.
has raised public awareness through a television documentary, two major reports
["Creating an Underclass" (1995) and "Integration or Marginalization"
(1998)], conferences and demonstrations.
advocacy efforts resulted in the Israeli government's creation of the Central
Steering Committee for Ethiopians in the Educational System, which adopted many
of IAEJ's recommendations into its action plan.
drafted and circulated a petition which was signed by 90 Knesset members for the
improvement of Ethiopian education and absorption.
established COPE- the Center for Opportunity and Progress in Education; located
in the Tel Aviv central bus station, to offer guidance and aid to school dropouts.
has initiated training programs for Israeli teachers about Ethiopian culture and
the special needs of the Ethiopian children.
Community Empowerment Project helps young Ethiopian activists to learn the advocacy
skills necessary to protect the rights of their community.
has headed successful lawsuits which have established the right of new Ethiopian
immigrants to vote, outlawed discriminatory practices, and enforced housing rights
for new immigrants.
efforts, in tandem with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, spearheaded
the formation of a coalition of over 40 organizations, to address the serious
issues in education facing Ethiopian immigrants in Israel. IAEJ remains an integral
part of the coalition, which has been at the forefront of providing programs and
funding to combat the problems facing Ethiopian immigrants.
in cooperation with the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, helped Ethiopian
young adult activists in three communities to organize the "Brothers Bound
Together" project to train Ethiopian teenagers to become mentors and role
models for Ethiopian elementary school children.