by Ilana Messika/TPS
Head of the the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, MK Avraham Neguise (Likud) slammed the education ministry for concealing statistics regarding violence and discrimination against Ethiopian-Israelis in school, saying that “ridicule and bullying are worse than physical violence” because they retard childrens’ emotional development.
Speaking at a committee hearing about a report issued by the National Statistics Authority showing that Ethiopian-Israelis are twice as likely as non-Ethiopians to be subjected to physical violence in schools, and three times more likely to be the victims of discrimination, Negosa said that young people carry the scars of discrimination for many years, and added that the education ministry has a responsibility to tackle this issue head-on.
“If there is racial discrimination against Ethiopian-Israelis in the educational system, [the statistics] must be publicized, not hidden, in order to fight [the phenomenon],” he said.
The report is the latest in a string of clashes between the Ethiopian community in Israel and the government. Last year, riots and large protests broke out after an off-duty IDF soldier of Ethiopian heritage was beaten by police. More recently, last week the Prime Minister’s Office announced it would close a network of youth centers in favor of integrating the programs into community center programs.
Members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, including Neguise, were critical of that decision, but officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said the new policy, called Derech Hahadasha (The New Way), had the support of the Ethiopian National Project (ENP), an national organization that supports the integration of Ethiopian-Israelis into Israeli society. Supporters of the new arrangement say the youth centers are obsolete, and they add that running absorption programs out of local community centers would streamline “full integration.”
Other community spokespeople aren’t buying the argument.
“Activists, teenagers and city heads turned to me in worry about the expected disbanding of the youth centers,” Neguise said. “They consider the programs to be critical for the full integration of Ethiopian immigrants into Israeli society.”
The Prime Minister’s Office, which is responsible for budgeting youth-at-risk programs, said funds to the organizations operating youth centers will be slashed. For some groups, such as the Fidel Association for Education and Social Integration of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, which operates nine youth centers throughout Israel, the cut will mean a loss 75 to 80 percent of their budget by February 2017.
Yaakov Frohlich, Director of Resource Development to FIDEL, told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) that the youth centers constitute a major positive force in the integration of the Ethiopian immigrants and their children into Israeli society:
“To optimize integration within the Israeli society as a whole, our youth centers work to to imbue Ethiopian-Israeli youth with skills and knowledge, together with a sense of pride for their heritage. Our academic, social, sports and educational programs are critical to build up their leadership qualities and confidence.
“The youth centers also help strengthen intergenerational understanding by offering programs to help parents understand the Israeli school system or the IDF so that they can be properly informed,” Frohlich said.
According to Frohlich, the decision to run youth programs aimed at Ethiopian-Israelis through local community centers will endanger the integration of the community by oversimplifying the situation and the challenges that Ethiopian-Israelis face. He argues that expecting full integration from community centers is unrealis
tic, because the centers are not necessarily geographically accessible to people hoping to participate, and also because general community centers are not equipped to address sensitive issues unique to the community.
“It is far from certain that the youth will feel comfortable coming to the centers,” he explained.
According to the 2015 numbers of the Central Bureau of Statistics, there are approximately 140,000 Israelis of Ethiopian descent. The community is predominantly a young one, with 36 percent being under the age of 18. But in 2014, only one third of the holders of a matriculation certification of Ethiopian descent had met the university entrance requirements.
“FIDEL works in the hopes that one day we will not need youth centers anymore, but to expect it from the Ethiopian-Israeli community and from the Israeli society at present remains unrealistic,” Frohlich concluded.
TPS / Tazpit News Agency