Grunt work | Citizen’s Emporwement Center in Israel

Grunt work

Grunt work


Although Barkan Wineries reinstated the Ethiopian Israeli employees after the public outcry, the occupational discrimination suffered by members of this ethnic community is far more widespread and is deplorable. blue-collar jobs and far lower wages: this is the situation of the sector most discriminated against in the Israeli economy

Telem Yahav

Calcalist 28.06.2018


Binyamin Talala (40), a graduate of a yeshiva (religious school) in Or Etzion, works as a counselor in a youth village and is a rabbi and a wedding officiant with authorization from the Rabbinate and a rabbinical ordination certificate. However, some of the religious councils are raising obstacles every time he wants to perform a wedding ceremony. According to him, the reason for this is his ethnicity – because he is of Ethiopian origin. “At the Rabbinate, they prefer their own kind. I have to bring all kinds of certificates and they don’t give me permission; each time they give a different excuse. If there is someone else, if he is white, they give him permission without any problem,” Talala says to “Capital.” “I am forced to refuse requests for weddings. I ask someone else to perform the wedding ceremony. My students invite me to weddings and I cannot perform the ceremony, because it is impossible to fight alone against such a huge institution.” Talala says that he encounters discrimination in relation to other matters. “A few years ago, I wanted to enroll my son in a Talmud Torah (religious school), but they wanted me to convert again because I am not Jewish enough,” he said. “I am married, I hold a certificate of rabbinical ordination, and this is not enough for them. Nothing helped. My Yemenite friends – their children went to school there.”


Adv. Elad Kaplan, director of the legal department at the organization “Itim,” who is also helping Talala, explains that the discrimination against Ethiopian Israelis is particularly egregious when it concerns religious services. “We are encountering this time and again under the guise of ‘Judaism,’ and this is a violation of basic rights and a violation of the Equal Opportunities Law,” he said. “A situation whereby a rabbi of Ethiopian origin is prevented from performing a wedding ceremony should bother every citizen, and particularly observant Jews. This is simply sacrilege.” Ziva Makonen-Dago, the CEO of the Israeli Association of Ethiopian Jews, also says: “Many entities provide religious services, and they can do whatever they want on behalf of the religion. This is hurtful to people when their only transgression is that they are black-skinned.”


Even in cities with a high ratio of Ethiopian Israelis, this is not reflected in representation. In Netanya, for example, where they constitute 5.5% of the residents, there is not even one Ethiopian Israeli among the employees of the municipality


And Talala’s case is not the only one. Adv. Kobi Avaka-Zena of the Ministry of Justice, head of the National Anti-racism Coordinating Office, has encountered countless similar cases experienced by Ethiopian Israelis. Adv. Avaka-Zena advised that his office receives complaints about institutional discrimination and, besides individual handling of each case, the office works systemically to eradicate the phenomenon. The office also serves as a source of knowledge and information in this regard. “A young man arrived who was disqualified by a supervisor of kosher food at a banquet hall on the grounds that he is not Jewish,” he relates. “Another person was hired for a position under ‘fair representation’ and complained that he was fired because the ‘fair representation’ contract had expired and he was only needed for that purpose. An employee of a municipality described how the manager and the treasurer are harassing him, including with racist and intentionally humiliating remarks in front of customers and other employees. One of the typical manifestations of racism is occupational discrimination, and towards Ethiopian Israelis, this discrimination is rampant and deeply rooted. A racist employer should be obligated to pay a heavy fine.”


The case of Barkan Wineries, which was reported this week on Kan 11 News, is just the tip of the iceberg. Although the winery indeed reinstated the Ethiopian Israeli employees after the public outcry, and although Ethiopian Israelis have been battling discrimination for many years, their situation in the labor market is not improving.


According to the latest report from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, about 144 thousand Ethiopian Israelis are living in Israel, about 85 thousand of whom (59%) were born in Ethiopia, while the rest were born in Israel. The greatest concentrations of Ethiopian Israelis are in Netanya (about 11 thousand residents), in Rishon Le-Zion (8,200), Be’er Sheva, Petah-Tikva and Rehovot. The data are deplorable. Although the ratio of employed Ethiopian Israelis reaches 83.6%, for the most part, at issue are blue-collar jobs. Only 9.3% have white-collar jobs, compared to 23% among Arabs, 33% among Russian Israelis, 38% of second-generation Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) Israelis, 52% of third-generation native Israelis and 59% of second-generation Ashkenazi (European) Israelis. As for blue-collar jobs, the situation is reversed – 28% of Ethiopian Israelis have blue-collar jobs, compared to 6.5% among first-generation European Israelis. In sales, services and clerical jobs, Ethiopian Israelis have a huge lead: 69% are employed in jobs such as these, compared to 33% among Arabs and 20% among second-generation European Israelis. According to the Adva Center, the average net wage of an Ethiopian Israeli is NIS 5,185, far below the national average: NIS 8,649. The gross household income totals NIS 12,294, compared to NIS 19,118 among the general population.


And their difficulties begin even before they begin working. In 2016, the ratio of Ethiopian Israeli high-school seniors who took matriculation exams was 89%, but the percentage who qualified for a matriculation certificate was only 55%, compared to 76% among all state school pupils. Only 33% of Ethiopian Israelis meet the threshold requirements to be admitted to university, compared to 66%. According to the Adva Center report, only 17% of Ethiopian Israelis have earned an academic degree, compared to 55% among second-generation European Israelis, and 50% of third-generation native Israelis. Only 57% of Ethiopian Israelis have a home computer, compared to 78% among the general population, and only 55% of Ethiopian Israelis have internet (compared to 75%).


These data are added to the report by the Citizens’ Empowerment Center on poor representation in civil service, despite a 76% upswing within the last decade. Thus, although the ratio of Ethiopian Israelis in the entire population is about 1.7%, in 2016, many public bodies and government ministries employed Ethiopian Israelis at a ratio far below the minimum prescribed in the Fair Representation Law, even though they are required by law to comply with this ratio. In local authorities, for example, only 1.3% of the employees are Ethiopian Israelis. In government ministries and support units, as well as in hospitals, the ratio is 2%, due to higher representation in blue-collar jobs. At the Bank of Israel and at Magen David Adom (national emergency medical service), the ratio is 0.72% of the employees. At the Israeli Securities Authority, at the Second Authority for Television and Radio, at the National Road Safety Authority and at the Academy of the Hebrew Language, there is not even one Ethiopian Israeli employee. The same is true at the Ministry of Social Equality, at the Chief Rabbinate, at the Ministry of Communications, at the Cyber Command and at the Consumer Protection Authority.

Also in local authorities with a high ratio of Ethiopian Israelis among the residents, the ratio is not reflected among employees of the municipalities. In Ashkelon: 4.8% of the residents are Ethiopian Israelis, but only 1.2% were employed at the municipality in 2016. In Mivasseret Zion, they account for 6.1% of the residents, but only 1.1% of the municipality’s employees. In Migdal Ha’Emek (3.6%) and in Netanya (5.5%), not even one Ethiopian Israeli is employed by the municipality. According to Einat Fisher-Lalo, the CEO of the Citizens’ Empowerment Center, “the State’s obligation to ensure fair representation of Ethiopian Israelis cannot be fulfilled solely by legislative amendments or partial achievement of the quantitative targets. The situation whereby there is no fair representation, or when the representation is only quantitative and technical and not at all echelons and positions, is not compliance with the legal and moral obligation to this population segment and to the entire population.”


Adv. Miriam Kabha, the Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said to “Capital” with reference to the data, that “the discrimination against Ethiopian Israelis is a major problem that must be eradicated. To this end, we must call it by its name – as did the Chief Rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, in the case of Barkan Wineries. The Commission is clarifying the case. Only if we voice a clear outcry will we remove discrimination and racism from the agenda. There are Ethiopian Israelis who are reaching key positions – we have now been informed about the appointment of Adv. Oshra Freedman as the CEO of the Authority for the Advancement of Women in the Ministry of Social Equality – but we have a long road ahead of us.” Advocate and Parliament member Pnina Tamano-Sheta (Yesh Atid political party) added: “For dark-skinned people, the color of our skin is used as a tool for labeling, taunting and discrimination. We must uproot the exclusion of the ‘other’ because of the difference in the color of his skin and stigmas, and first of all, amongst those who pretend to take ownership of Judaism. And the battle is not only that of Ethiopian Israelis. It is a battle over the image and values of the State of Israel.”

When we asked for a response in relation to Talala’s case, the Ministry of Religious Services advised that “after examination, Rabbi Talala does not appear in the list of wedding officiants of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, and therefore, we do not allow him to perform wedding ceremonies, according to the procedures. The allegation of discrimination based on ethnicity is incorrect in the case at hand because he is not on the list.” It should be noted that Talala showed us his certificate as a wedding officiant, which is signed by the chief rabbis, but at the ministry, they said that this is not authorization as far as the Rabbinate is concerned, but rather is “only a document pertaining to Jewish law.”

The Chief Rabbinate’s response: “Rabbi Binyamin Talala does not appear in the national list of wedding officiants and is not authorized by the Chief Rabbinate to perform wedding ceremonies on a regular basis. He also did not submit an application to receive permanent authorization to perform wedding ceremonies; therefore, it is impossible to know whether he fulfills the criteria to receive it. There is no connection between his ethnic affiliation and his being not authorized as a rabbi who can perform wedding ceremonies. Every rabbi is required to submit an application to become a regular wedding officiant, and his application is being examined according to the criteria. More than 20 rabbis from the Ethiopian community are currently authorized wedding officiants and, in 2018, about another 20 will be appointed. An application for temporary authorization is being submitted to the local rabbi, and is being examined on its merits and at his discretion.”


The salt of the earth will study mathematics, the pepper of the earth will clean the classroom | Telem Yahav


Israel is the innovation nation or, as the local high-tech industry loves to define itself, in English transliteration, of course: “start-up nation.” The best minds fill the high-tech sector – those people who usually have the number 8200 or a vague term like “technological unit” recorded alongside their smiling photos in their CVs. Listed under education will be MS in mathematics, computer science or geophysics from the Technion, Hebrew University or the Weizmann Institute, and, listed under competencies, will be weird names like python, SQL and C++. Salt of the earth, in the fullest sense of the word.

Except that the color of salt, as we all know, is a bit different than that of pepper, which gets a bit less appreciation. The pepper of the earth did not have the privilege of serving in the intelligence corps. In his CV, which, for the most part, is written in slightly broken Hebrew, will appear the Givati Brigade or border police and, recorded under education, is, at best, “full matriculation,” and at worst, “partial matriculation.” Listed under competencies will most likely be a security guard course or a background of manual labor, and perhaps some minimum-wage job to spice things up.

Just this week, the Ministry of Education announced that the number of students studying 5 units of mathematics has doubled. Great. When I asked to check the geographic segmentation of the students, I was told that it is not possible to receive the data. Does anyone have any doubt that a major percentage of the increase is in Tel-Aviv and in Gush Dan (central Israel)?

The high-tech nation is dashing forward and is not waiting for anyone. And this is great, because this is one of the characteristics of our market. Not long ago, the CEO of Manpower International told me that, when he participates in a discussion about cyber security anywhere in the world, he is surprised to discover that every time, half of the participants in the discussion are Israelis. Such a global standing is truly extraordinary. But we forgot something along the way. The pepper of the earth.

Government ministers are proud that companies are coming to Israel and rushing to meetings with CEOs, but in order for this high-tech engine to continue growing, it needs to be diverse. And in order for this to happen, the State needs to invest in children from infancy and continuing to adulthood, with free professional training and while ensuring equal opportunities for every boy and girl living in the periphery, with the emphasis on Ethiopian Israelis and weak population segments.

The best students are in the classrooms learning mathematics, computer science and physics in schools and universities. They are learning equations, integrals, matrices and lots of other words that, for most of us, look like science fiction. When the class is over in the classroom, you already know who cleans it, right? So we have to change this picture. And the State must invest every resource that it has, educational-economic-social, to close the gaps. It is very nice to dash ahead, but you need to make sure that everyone is participating in the race.