The National Labor Court of Israel has determined that 16 Ethiopian-born Israeli rabbis are awarded compensation due to discrimination in resource distribution by state and municipal religious organizations.
The rabbis’ 12-year legal battle resulted in a landmark verdict for them, and their struggle became a symbol of the difficulties that African Jews face in Israeli culture.
“All along the way, there were difficulties and even failures in the conduct of the state and the religious councils… the root of the process is discrimination based on national origin,” according to the labor court ruling, according to Haaretz.
The discrimination mentioned in the judgment dates back to 1992, when, in the wake of protests over the government’s neglect of the religious leaders of the Beta Israel Jews from Ethiopia, Yitzhak Rabin’s government gave the leaders official recognition.
This official status should have come with a stipend, funded by municipal and town religious councils. The Chief Rabbinate, the country’s top religious office, later appointed another 12 rabbis from the Ethiopian minority.
Local religious authorities, on the other hand, refused to acknowledge Ethiopian rabbis’ authority, instead barring them from facilities such as offices. In addition, they were not compensated the same as other Israeli rabbis.
There was no investigation when money that was allegedly budgeted by the state and expected to be disbursed by local councils “disappeared.” The state claimed at the hearing that it was obligated to oversee the expenditures of local religious councils, but this claim was refuted.
So far, several of the litigants who have been calling for justice for decades have died. Rabbi Avram Shai, one of the living plaintiffs, did not mince words about how the battle has played out.
“Fighting for the rights of the community and ensuring that our leaders get what they deserve is no easy task. I like Israel, but when they refused to treat us as equals to local rabbis, I recognized that the religious establishment wants us to be slaves and water-drawers. That is still true in 2020,” Rabbi Shai added.
For nearly four decades, Israeli Jews of African descent have lived in the Jewish state.
Over three decades, there was a significant exodus of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, with tens of thousands being saved by Israel owing to war and unrest in East Africa, or emigrating on their own volition.
However, for the descendants of Beta Israel, who make up around 2% of Israel’s population, the promised haven has proven to be anything but.
Ethiopian Jews have been reminded of the color of their skin and how it puts them out of favor since arriving in Israel. Economic and political opportunities have been denied to them.
Ethiopian Jews have suffered in silence, despite the fact that many may believe they have been protected from Africa’s worst. Assimilation into Israeli society, on the other hand, has become a challenge.
However, in 2015, Israel witnessed the largest demonstration against Ethiopian Jews’ prejudice. And then things became violent.
“The atypical violence, observed recently during rallies by members of the Ethiopian minority in Israel, was a direct outcome of years of accumulated dissatisfaction against the state and especially the police,” wrote Yossi Makelberg of Chatham House for the BBC in 2015.