Tuesday, January 01, 2008

HaKol Lo Tov
by: Schvach Yid

The December 21, 2007 edition of The New York Jewish Week ran two articles about a big Schrei over a case of racial discrimination involving four young Israeli/Ethiopian students in attendance at an Israeli elementary school. Here are the links:
Joshua Mitnick http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c40_a1490/News/Israel.html

Batya Eyob http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c40_a1452/News/Israel.html

Regrettably, I have no difficulty in believing this account of discrimination against Ethiopian Israelis. We certainly have read, in the on-line news media, about similar discrimination against Sephardim in the yeshiva world (see Tali Farkash’s article for Ynet news.com, at:

In Israel, I had a significant experience with this same social phenomenon.

In the mid 1980’s, I stayed on a kibbutz in the Galilee, located ‘down the road apiece’ from a building facility that was adapted for use as a merkaz klitah – absorption center – for Ethiopian olim (immigrants) newly arrived to Israel.

Parenthetically, I might state that it has been a long standing practice of Israel’s Jewish Agency for Immigration and Absorption to provide housing and ulpanim (Hebrew language classes) for large groups of new immigrants according to nationality and native language, I suppose with the aim of easing the emotional stress that can occur as a result of linguistic and social isolation.

Well, on the grounds of this facility was an outdoor swimming pool – mmmm – a very nice one, I might add, enclosed by a high wire fence.

Although the pool was a part of the merkaz klitah, the pool was made available to the kibbutz. It was a favored hangout for the kibbutz volunteers, most of whom were of college age and from Europe.

One fine day I decided to take a swim. When I arrived at the pool I was greeted by the sight of young Black children standing outside the encircling fence, fingers clutching through the wire, watching a Whites only population of kibbutz members and volunteers enjoying the pool.

I asked one of the Israelis. ‘The health department hasn’t cleared them yet; they might have skin diseases so they’re not allowed in the water’.

The only skin ‘disease’ I could discern was cutaneous hypermelanosis – no problem at all, and certainly not a disease.

Those kids were Jews, in Israel, but I guess they were considered not quite up to snuff as Yiddin. If you think the answer I received to my question was intended as sarcasm, forget it. My later inquiries concerning the matter evoked the same answer. There wasn’t a word about swimming ability or pool safety (no lifeguard was present).

The kibbutz was secular, but I was a member of a Conservative Movement group staying on that kibbutz. We too were segregated, as members of a garin. We, unlike the kibbutz members, kept kosher. We were also somewhat more accepting of ‘others’, since we too were ‘other’.

Nu? We decided to invite small groups of Ethiopian olim from ‘down the road’ to dine kosher with us. The Ethiopian men arrived wearing kippot. But we dined in the kibbutz chadar ochal (dining hall) with everyone else. Everyone else wasn’t so pleased with our garin’s guests.

After a couple of these dinner soirées, the kibbutz decided to pull the plug.

It wasn’t long after that the merkaz klitah down the road apiece was shut down. The ‘skin diseased’ Ethiopian olim were moved to other digs somewhere else in Israel.

The obvious racism was, well, obvious, but there was another aspect.

You’re right if you think the above related tale sounds like America in the ‘old days’. Israel has the habit of emulating America, and I mean all aspects of American culture, whether beneficial of destructive; if America did it, then it must be OK. So goes he thinking in Israel, at least in my experience.

Back on the kibbutz, one of the female kibbutz members, a sabra, attempted to orient the members of our garin to the facts of life in Israel. Her effort wandered to Israel’s disastrous incursion into Lebanon (mid 1980’s).

‘It was our Vietnam War’, she bragged, grinning with apparent pride. That schmuck didn’t understand, all the while presuming expertise. The Vietnam War was a disaster for the United States; who the hell needed it. Today, America is still reeling over it, but the Israelis I encountered (and this woman was no exception) believed that America’s experiences serve as a type of paradigm or stamp of approval, to be freely emulated, regardless of the potential harm that might result.

The practice of group discrimination is indeed harmful to any society. Israel doesn’t need, nor should it want, the attendant headaches.

‘We give them enough; why should they have everything?’, we were told when our garin members verbally protested the treatment doled out to the Ethiopian olim.

Skin diseases; they had to be kidding. I can’t wait for the Ethiopian Jewish festival of Sigd
to role around again.

Shame on us! If there are a people in the world who should know better, it’s us.


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