It took Israel decades to accept Jewish Ethiopian religious leaders and to integrate them as rabbis, but it remains to be seen how much the reforms will be implemented.
Religious leaders of the Israeli Ethiopian community take part in a ceremony marking the Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd in Jerusalem, Nov. 16, 2017.
The Ministerial Committee on the Integration of Israeli Citizens of Ethiopian Descent into Israeli Society decided Feb. 19 to recognize kessim as spiritual leaders of Ethiopian Jews, and thus to formalize their status as part of the system of religious services in Israel. The decision also relates to the integration of rabbis with Ethiopian backgrounds in roles on religious councils.
The chairman of the committee, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said at the meeting, “The [Ethiopian] community has a special status because it has actually kept the heritage of Israel in complete isolation. It moves me, it’s close to my heart, and therefore the moment we mark today is also historic.”
In this instance, the use of the word “historic” is actually correct. This decision officially abolishes one aspect of discrimination suffered by Ethiopian immigrants in Israel.
The kessim were the spiritual leaders of the Jewish communities in Ethiopia and maintained Jewish customs in a unique form. With the community’s immigration to Israel, the status of the kessim diminished. The rabbinic establishment in Israel has not recognized them as keeping Jewish law or in their status as spiritual leaders, claiming that Ethiopian Jews were unfamiliar with the Jewish laws that developed after the biblical period. The rabbinate and Ministry of Religion required them to pass courses for ordination to the rabbinate, and those who passed these courses were authorized to serve as a rabbi only of Ethiopian communities, and not, heaven forbid, of any other community in Israel.
Despite the support of late spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who was the first to recognize Ethiopian Jewry as early as the beginning of the 1970s, and thus enabled their immigration to Israel by means of the Law of Return, the rabbinic establishment, especially the Ashkenazic (of European origin) establishment, which has doubted their Judaism from the start, has refused to accept the kessim as spiritual and religious leaders.
Journalist and social activist Ayanao Sanbeto told Al-Monitor that only after the angry demonstrations of Ethiopian Jews in 1992 did a government committee recommend allowing the ordination of the Ethiopian religious leadership. According to him, in the end, Ethiopian rabbis who received full ordination were only appointed to minor roles and only in Ethiopian communities. A tiny number of kessim received jobs as what has been called a “spiritual shepherd” in Ethiopian communities, but here, too, discrimination has continued and these rabbis received much lower salaries compared with non-Ethiopian rabbis.
After years of debate, the Regional Labor Court in Beersheba decided in July 2016 that the State of Israel and religious councils have for years discriminated against the kessim and rabbis of the Ethiopian communities, and that they should be paid reparations, the differences in pay and pensions retroactively. The court’s decision noted that the kessim and rabbis were discriminated against for years by religious councils, despite repeated determinations that they work and act exactly like neighborhood rabbis who receive a significantly higher salary.
“Instead of finding courage and seeking a solution to the wrong that has been done for years, the state has perpetuated discrimination and the gap when it shirked its responsibility to fix this wrong, especially in presenting clever arguments regarding the statute of limitations,” wrote Judge Yohanan Cohen. “This conduct does not fit with the obligation to act in good faith that applies more strenuously to the state. The picture revealed to the court is a disappointing one that does not align with the principles of equality as arise from the Scroll of Independence.”
In the meantime, the state has not recognized its responsibility for this discrimination and has appealed the court’s decision at the National Labor Court; deliberations there will start soon.
In 2015, another wave of protests by Israelis of Ethiopian origins erupted in an outcry over continued discrimination, this time in protest of the violent conduct of police officers toward Israeli Ethiopians. The protest was sparked by a video showing officers hitting Damas Pikada, a soldier of Ethiopian descent, for no apparent reason. The investigation showed that Pikada was the one who started the altercation with the officers, but that they responded with excessive force. The decision of the attorney general to close the case led to the protests that devolved into violent altercations where dozens of protesters and officers were injured and hundreds were arrested. In August 2016, Pikada became an officer in the Israel Defense Forces.
To calm the demonstrations, the government decided to create a ministerial committee headed by Netanyahu himself. Since its establishment less than two years ago, it has made 12 decisions on projects to advance the integration of Ethiopian immigrants, for instance, in the fields of education, welfare and housing.
Yet even nowadays, despite the projects authorized and this latest decision among them, the situation of Ethiopian immigrants in Israel is far from satisfactory, as seen in the crime rate among the youth of this sector. The rate of indictments against young people of Ethiopian descent is more than twice that of their Israeli peers, and among minors, the picture is truly frightening: The rate of indictments reaches four times that of Israeli minors.
A senior government source involved in the committee’s decision on the kessim told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the decision made last week is nothing short of a revolution. “We have finally managed to overcome the opposition of the rabbinate and make an official government decision on principle in accepting the status of the kessim as spiritual leaders of the Ethiopian community. They have this status by right and not on sufferance.”
According to him, the government will fund the salaries of 20 such kessim at a rate equal to the salary of rabbis, “including young kessim trained by the elders.”
Knesset member Pnina Tamano-Shata (Yesh Atid), the first Ethiopian-born woman to hold a seat in the Knesset, told Al-Monitor, “With a delay of three decades, historic justice has been done to those who were the gatekeepers of Ethiopian Jews in the Diaspora in the face of all the challenges, hardships and missionaries. Until today, their honorable role has been dismissed here in Israel, and it is better late than never to own up to a mistake and remedy the wrong.”
Sanbeto is not moved by the recognition and said that aside from a few jobs given to rabbis and the kessim, the decision has no true significance. What would be meaningful, he noted, is if rabbis and kessim were allowed to participate in determining the eligibility of thousands of Falash Mura (Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity in the last century) in Ethiopia who seek to immigrate to Israel.
Many believe that the test of this decision will be practical. Will the rabbinate indeed allow rabbis of Ethiopian background to serve as neighborhood and community rabbis to an Israeli public of all backgrounds, or will it continue treating Ethiopian immigrants as a separate and excluded religious sect? A Sephardic synagogue would probably pick a Sephardic rabbi, and an Ashkenazi synagogue would prefer an Ashkenazi religious leader. But the essence of the Israeli melting pot is that the rabbi is there to guide his community members and to help them, whether they immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia, Morocco or the United States.
The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration — which seeks to criminalize criticism of migration — is nothing more or less than a dangerous effort to weaken national borders, to normalize mass migration, to blur the line between legal and illegal immigration, and to bolster the idea that people claiming to be refugees enjoy a panoply of rights in countries where they have never before set foot.
One thing about the agreement, in any event, is irrefutable: almost nobody in the Western world has been clamoring for this. It is, quite simply, a project of the globalist elites. It is a UN power-grab.
The waterfront in the Chilean city of Valdivia. Photo: Arvid Puschnig via Wikimedia Commons.
Top Jewish groups have welcomed a Chilean government decision made earlier this week to ban municipalities across the country from boycotting Israel.
The ruling — issued by the Comptroller General of Chile – stemmed from a complaint filed by the Chilean Jewish community over a move of the Valdivia municipality to ban the city from signing contracts with Israel-linked companies.
New immigrants to Israel arrive at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Aug. 17, 2016. Photo: Reuters / Baz Ratner.
A top Israeli minister called on the government on Sunday to craft a “comprehensive plan” to encourage the aliyah of French Jews.
In Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett’s view, there has been a “historic missed opportunity” in recent years to bring more French Jews to Israel as immigrants.
“There are 200,000 French Jews who want to come here, and the state bureaucracies simply aren’t prepared for it,” Bennett, who also serves as education minister and head of the right-wing HaBayit HaYehudi party, claimed at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “These are ethical people, Zionists, lovers of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, and it is our moral obligation to help them.”
Israel has started uncovering and destroying Hezbollah’s attack tunnels under the Lebanese border, but destroying the group’s ambitious precision missile project will be much more difficult.
The Israel Defense Forces placed a camera into Hezbollah’s secret cross-border attack tunnel before sunrise on Dec. 4. They pushed it into the Lebanese side, under the Blue Line that separates the two countries. At dawn, two Hezbollah operatives reached the spot on their morning rounds. In the video disseminated by the IDF on Tuesday evening, one of the operatives is seen approaching the camera with suspicion. He stuck his nose in its direction and started to sniff around until something exploded in his face and he ran back the way he’d comVisibilitye.
The timing of Operation Northern Shield, to destroy Hezbollah tunnels leading from Lebanon into Israel, suggests that considerations other than security were behind the decision to launch it.
An Israeli commando from Yahalom, an engineering unit, takes part in a tunnel-hunting drill near Tel Aviv, March 7, 2012.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech to Likud activists on Dec. 2 that was both defensive and combative toward law enforcement authorities. He complained about the supposedly suspicious timing of the police announcement recommending his indictment for taking bribes in Case 4000, coming as it did one day before Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh concluded his term in office.
This week, for the first time, Israel made public its discovery of the tunnel constructed by Hezbollah and reaching into Israel’s sovereign territory. This brought to an end a long period during which a large number of Israelis living in communities adjacent to the Lebanese border reported hearing sounds of digging as well as feeling tremors in the walls of their homes.
Attack tunnels are intended to allow for significant numbers of armed infantry bearing weapons, artillery and supplies, to traverse them within a minimal time span, avoiding Israeli lookouts and thereby gaining the element of surprise.
Last Saturday, Iran’s “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani called Israel “a cancerous tumor” in a speech at the regime’s annual Islamic Unity Conference.
Rouhani’s fellow speakers included deputy Hezbollah chief Naim Qassem and Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh. Both terror bosses called for the destruction of the “cancerous tumor.”
With the predictability of a Swiss clock, the Europeans rushed to condemn Rouhani. The EU in Brussels condemned Rouhani. The German Foreign Ministry condemned Rouhani. And so on and so forth.
We could have done without their statements.
It was clear that with the onset of Operation Northern Shield—meant to neutralize terror tunnels Hezbollah has constructed along the Israel-Lebanon border—some would call it a public relations stunt by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Those who believe the timing of the police’s recommendations in Case 4000—announced on the last day of Roni Alsheikh’s tenure as the police commissioner—was reasonable, somehow complain about the timing of the operation.
On Sunday evening, December 2, the people of Sderot, Israel – a town located a mere kilometer from the Gaza border – gathered to light the first candle of the town’s menorah to commemorate the first day of Hanukkah. Jews around the world celebrate this holiday, which marks the time some two millennia ago when the Jews regained control of Jerusalem and rededicated the Second Temple.
What makes the candle lighting in Sderot worth mentioning is the fact that it is particularly symbolic of how the Jewish spirit looks for ways to turn tragedy into triumph.
This is obviously a short-lived honeymoon that will end the day after the UN General Assembly vote on the anti-Hamas resolution. The morning after the vote, Abbas will wake up to the realization that Hamas was a strange bedfellow indeed.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s hatred of Hamas is far from secret. But Abbas is now defending Hamas because he despises the Trump administration, which has sponsored a UN draft resolution that condemns Hamas. Pictured: Abbas (right) meets with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on May 30, 2007 in the Gaza Strip. (Photo by Abu Askar/PPO via Getty Images)