I will be the first to admit that the story I am about to tell is in no way unique. It is tale of injustice racism and exploitation that can be found in many countries today and throughout history. So why tell it? I relate these facts because in a certain sense they are unique for they are happening in a very unique country, Israel. “What’s so unique about Israel?” I hear you ask. Well apart from the fact that its brutality towards the Palestinians is on our news screens every night, the uniqueness of Israel is that it was a country supposedly created as a refuge for the Jews.
Israel was created for those same Jews who have been the victims of a similar brutality for over two thousand years. So logically one would think that when at last the Jews have their own country these same victims of injustice and racism (anti-Semitism) would have learned the lesson and would treat their fellow Jews well, with dignity, and love! But as this story unravels itself, it will become clear that the two thousand years of persecution culminating in the Holocaust amounted to nothing as far as a lesson in humanity goes.
After the break up of the Soviet Union it became possible for the Jews in the USSR to leave freely to wherever they wished. The majority wanted to go to the USA, but Israel struck some sort of deal to prevent this. (The same old methods that were used in the past to force Jews to emigrate to Israel and nowhere else. See The cold-blooded stance of the Zionists in the face of the Holocaust).
The Israeli government through the Jewish Agency, a quasi-government organization that is supposed to help new immigrants, opened offices in most of the big cities in the former Soviet Union where Jews usually concentrate, promising them the earth - just come, only come! The main reason for this tremendous effort was simply numerical, more Jewish immigrants means a source of more recruits for a bigger army for Israel in its ongoing struggle with its neighbours. The final number of Russians who have come to Israel from around 1991 to the present day is about one million. That is a population increase of about fifteen-percent.
At about the same time as the Russian influx was taking place, there was also a much smaller immigration from Ethiopia called “Operation Solomon”. It brought a much smaller number of Black Jews to Israel via the Sudan. These people had to make the journey form Ethiopia to the Sudan mostly on foot over the desert in appalling heat, because the then pseudo-Marxist regime’s leader Menghistu would not allow them to fly directly from Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv.
The contrast between these two waves of immigration could not be starker. The west, mainly the USA, was always stressing the negative aspects of the Soviet regime. To be sure the USSR did not have the wealth of luxury goods, and most of the other trappings of the capitalist consumer society. But during the last decade of the USSR only Japan had a higher level of literacy than the Soviet Union, both countries being over 90% compared to a low 70% in the US.
So Israel almost overnight suddenly became awash with highly educated engineers, software programmers, and so many doctors and nurses to the extent that it is almost impossible to enter an Israeli hospital or clinic without being confronted by a Russian medical practitioner of one sort or another. The universities are disproportionately filled with Russians, much to the chagrin of Israeli born Jews of Sephardic descent who still, after over 50 years of struggle, cannot rise to the level of the Jews of European descent, the reason being simply money. Education in Israel costs money, and higher education costs a lot of money.
But what of the fate of the Black Jews from Ethiopia? How have they faired in their new land? In one word, lousily. The gap between black and white Israelis seems, with just some exceptions, to be growing. For Ethiopians, it is visible in impoverished neighborhoods, soaring unemployment, and the highest high-school dropout rate of any Jewish group in Israel. Twenty-six percent of Ethiopian youth have either dropped out or do not show up for classes most of the time, raising concerns that the community's current difficulties may become chronic.
Drug abuse, including glue sniffing, is on the rise, and criminal activity, hardly known among Ethiopians before they came to Israel, has been growing. I personally have seen how these shy polite respectful people have deteriorated into no more than carbon copies of that image of American blacks as presented on the numerous trashy American programmes that are presented to us on TV. They wear the same clothes and hang around in gangs just like they see on the TV. And who can blame them? They have no way of relating to Mr. Israeli proper.
One of the most shameful incidents was what happened in 1996, when it was revealed that Israeli hospitals had thrown out all blood donated by Ethiopians. The reason was that it had been put about that all Ethiopians were HIV positive. A news programme secretly filmed this at a blood donor centre. The sachets containing the Ethiopian blood was simply put into a different box from all the other donors and just disposed of.
But in case I have given the impression so far that for the Russians all is rosy then I shall now correct that impression. It cannot be denied that the majority of the Russians have adapted to the dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest, f**k you jack, I’m all right capitalist system. But there are many, oh so many, who just like the Ethiopians cannot fathom this sink or swim society, having come from a society that with all its faults - and there were many - did at least have some element of socialism. These are the unskilled that work day and night without any union rights and are paid below the legal minimum wage, and in some cases are not paid at all - the sick, the elderly, the invalids.
Housing in Israel is mainly home ownership. Israel must have one of the highest levels of home ownership in the world. The other forms of housing are what in the UK would be called council estates, and private renting. The council estates are nearly all in the underdeveloped areas, either in the north or the south, where in some cases the unemployment level is as high as fifty percent!
The private form of renting is completely unregulated and the income from the rent is untaxed. In the recent economic reform bill it was decided to tax the interest on savings mostly of working people, but to leave the profits of stock market speculators and landlords untaxed. So we have Israelis owning old properties which they are not obliged to renovate. Usually these old broken down properties are ones that the landlord has either inherited or bought with undeclared income.
The going rent for a two room flat (living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom) is $US450. All utilities such as gas, electricity and council tax are born by the tenant. It is not uncommon for two, sometimes three, families to rent such a flat. In some cases it may be two separate families renting at $US250/300 a room. If the people are working then they can manage, but in many cases these people are living on income support or a small invalid pension.
At the moment my wife is dealing with a case (through the help centre she runs) of a woman, an invalid who receives $US270 a month income support. Her rent is $US450, so of course she is in arrears and the landlord is threatening to kick her out onto the street. She can be found like so many others at our local market picking up fruit and vegetables from the ground at the end of the trading day.
She has a son. Ah, I hear you say; why does this good-for-nothing son of hers not help his mum? Simple: he is in the army! And what does the Jewish army, that exists, supposedly, to safeguard its citizens pay this lad? Well, if he is a fighting soldier he will be paid the top rate - wait for it - $US150 a month, and if he is not in a fighting unit $US100 a month. Her son is just one of the many “hungry soldiers” who are fed when they are on the base, but on their weekend leave come home to starve!
All these sad facts and statistics are quite a new phenomenon. When my wife and I came to Israel separately in 1971, I from the UK went to a Kibbutz where I worked half a day and studied Hebrew half a day. My wife who came from the USSR also went to a kibbutz and then onto an absorption centre till the immigrant flat for her and her mother was ready. This all changed with the right wing government of Yitzhak Shamir.
The old and invalid Russians will eventually die out; their children and grandchildren will be absorbed into Israeli society, and no doubt get on. But what about the Ethiopians? What fate awaits them? Well one does not have to look any further than the place a lot of Israelis envy, admire and hope someday to emulate: the USA! When Abraham Lincoln first freed the slaves, the USA had basically no use for them. So that is why nearly 150 years later a large part of their descendants are today considered a sort of under class, and that is probably the fate that awaits Israel’s Jewish blacks too, so long as capitalism survives!