Ethiopian Jews disadvantaged, marginalised

The Ethiopian Jews who have emigrated to Israel over the past 30 years have not integrated well. A recent report by the state comptroller blamed successive governments.

Former judge Micha Lindenstrauss who, as the government appointed comptroller, oversees and reviews the conduct of the state authorities, said in May the government had not done enough to assimilate fully the 110,000-strong community, whose members tend to live in the outlying suburbs of Israel's main cities, where housing is cheaper.

He said the Welfare Ministry, which provides assistance - including cash grants, vocational training and job placements - to over 65 percent of the Ethiopians, had not properly trained its employees on how to offer the right help to people trying to adjust to a new mode of living.

Observers also said racial tensions had contributed to the community's continued disconnect from mainstream Israeli society.

Profile of Ethiopian Jews

Statistics on the community make worrying reading.

Domestic violence has plagued the immigrants. About a third of all spousal killings in Israel in 2006 involved Ethiopians, according to reports from the National Ethiopian Project, a joint venture of the government and the community.

Over 20 percent of school-aged Ethiopians do not go to school, according to the Project, compared to seven percent of the general Jewish population (the Arabic population's drop-out rate is also higher than the national average).

The children are considered "disassociated" from society at large, Comptroller Lindenstrauss said, noting in his report (the website is in Hebrew only and contains links to different sections of the lengthy report) that about a quarter of the community's teenagers used drugs, and two-thirds said they drank alcohol, though it did not go into further details.

Photo: Jewish Agency for Israel
Over 20 percent of school-aged Ethiopians living in Israel do not go to school, according to the National Ethiopian Project

Government initiatives

Following Lindenstrauss's report, the Prime Minister's Office told reporters a five-year plan had been agreed on in February 2008 to improve the community's assimilation, but details of the plan have not been made public yet.

In 2007 the government launched a scheme to help young people in the community who had little incentive to stay in school: Of the limited numbers of Ethiopians who managed to graduate from university, only about 15 percent were employed in their professions; the rest worked in menial jobs, according to last year's survey by the National Ethiopian Project.

The scheme consisted of a request by the Welfare Ministry for some 240,000 shekels to operate an intervention programme for at-risk Ethiopian groups, in collaboration with an anti-drugs group. It also asked for some 100,000 shekels for research. Observers noted that the total amount equalled about US$100,000 - less than a dollar per person in the community.

Disaffected youth

"I graduated [from university] nearly two years ago and I can't get a suitable job," said Danny, aged 27, an Ethiopian Jew with a degree in social sciences.

"I'm beginning to think that going to university was a huge effort for nothing," he told IRIN, explaining that he now worked as a parking attendant and washed cars to make ends meet. He felt race played a role in his inability to find a better job.

"We see more and more disassociation and a higher rate of involvement in crime among [the youth in] the Ethiopian sector - much more than their percentage of the general population," Zion Gabai, from Elem, an Israeli NGO that helps children at risk, told IRIN.

Einat Gans from Fidel, an Ethiopian Jewish association for education and integration, said the main issue was not a lack of funds, but the failure of NGOs and the government to draw up and implement the necessary plans to assist the community.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

Share this article
Join the discussion

Support The New Humanitarian

Your support helps us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.