“The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs; Protestants and Catholics; Muslims, Croats, and Serbs. The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it; between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past; between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.” ~ Bill Clinton
It is hard to believe the Ethiopian Jews first made Aliyah to Israel over 30 years ago. In the movie Live and Become the world became aware of the heroic journeys these Africans made to cross the deserts of Sudan to arrive at the camps from which they would be airlifted to Israel. In the intervening years the racial tensions between Jews of European and African descent remains contentious both in Israel and the Diaspora. Ethiopians face challenges in Israel similar to Blacks in America during the 1960’s Civil Rights Era and are often assaulted verbally and referred to disparagingly as “Kushies.”
Similar to the experiences of Black Americans in the 60’s, Ethiopian Israelis are often depicted as ignorant, tracked into menial labor jobs, and most often find themselves deployed in the military on the front lines in some of the most dangerous territories.
However, this is only one side of the story. The director of the video posted below provides a different more positive perspective of Ethiopian Jewry. The video presents a picture of how Ethiopian Jews view themselves within the context of Israeli society and Judaism.
One of the reasons that the victim syndrome is not easily excised is because it continues to be promulgated via a number of outlets. The most ubiquitous is the media which is replete with stereotypes and gross generalizations when referring to the inferiority of “subgroups” within the dominant society from which they are reporting.
Both Karen Ross and Rachel E. Spector have written extensively on this phenomena. Ross says, “popular mass media plays a significant role in the transmission and maintenance of cultural identity . . . repetitive display of cultural norms and values . . . become seen as simple “truths.”
Spector continues by stating that “the stereotype reinforces . . . commonly held negative stereotypes about a group . . helping to build a consensus of public opinion toward, at best, tolerance or indifference to oppression at worst.
Because of this, even defenders of Civil Rights must be wary of the propensity to look upon those whom they seek to liberate as disempowered individuals incapable of rectifying their situation or position in society. In fact, it is these people who are best able to effect the changes required to improve their lives.
I often struggle with feelings of marginalization because of my gender, religious persuasion and colour with the empowerment that I enjoy as a consequence of having access to technology, education and freedom of speech. It is a fine balance, which in the end, is a daily struggle that requires an awareness and desire to seek out opportunities to improve our interhuman relationships; as well as remembering to laud how far we have advanced, especially in societies with histories of deep divides.
With regard to some of the vitriolic comments that were posted in response to the video above; it is important to remember that we are all ‘People of the Book‘ and descendants of Abraham and to disparage each other on the basis of how we pray to the one true G-d diminishes us all.
- US Jews Aid Remnants of Ethiopian Community (abcnews.go.com)
- US Jews aid remnants of Ethiopian community (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- US Jews aid remnants of Ethiopian community (mysanantonio.com)
- Israel to increase number of Ethiopian immigrants (jta.org)
- Israel taps first Ethiopia-born envoy (jta.org)
- Israel: The tribulations of being an Ethiopian Jew (danielberhane.wordpress.com)