I wrote the other day about the challenges of Ethiopian-Israeli integration and absorption. There's also a fascinating article in the Forward about this the other week, too, which you can read here.
On a recent visit back in Jerusalem I went to a “Preparation Center” (מרכז הכנה) that we run in cooperation with the local municipality and NGOs. Here’s the issue: there are something like 116,100 Ethiopian immigrants living in Israel today. This is now thirty years after major waves of immigration, from Operation Moses (1984) and Operation Solomon (1991). Of these, about a third (38,700) was born in Israel.
But still … for both Israeli-born and new immigrants of Ethiopian origin, the process of integrating into Israeli society is really challenging. Ethiopian immigrants are still considered to be one of the most vulnerable sectors of Israeli society. Their education rates and employment opportunities are still much, much lower than the national average.
The key stage in integration, really the most important tests of successfully integrating into Israeli society and culture is serving in the Israeli army. Army service is an ‘indicator’ – it signals to everyone a sense of belonging to, and integrating in, Israeli society.
We have an incredible program, called Springboard, which focuses on preparing Ethiopian-Israeli youth for Army service. I’ll write on this at some point in the near future. But in the interim, think about this:
"Even though Ethiopians are motivated and conscripted at the highest levels — fully 90% of men go, compared with 75% of Israeli men overall — almost half of them are spending part of their service in prison. Many are incarcerated more than once."
*Lt Col Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF Chief of Staff 2007-2011