December 6, 2021

Value Us, Don’t Discriminate

By Yarden Fanta-Vagenshtein


I am proud to be an Ethiopian-Israeli black woman, yet I am angry and disappointed at what is going on with Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Israel is my home and I owe my life to Israel and the Jews around the world who enabled me to be airlifted, in 1985, from the Sudan desert by the Israeli Air Force.

As Ethiopian Jews, our ancestors dreamt of going to the “Promised Land of the Jews” for 2,500 years. To get there, we crossed the desert on foot, sacrificing our lives to be with our fellow Jews in the Holy Land.

Yet, now in Israel, we find ourselves in a different fight. In the Ethiopian village, we knew whom we were fighting against. And, we had solutions. We could insulate ourselves as a community. Our family could work on our own fields; use our own Jewish community blacksmiths, weavers and potters. If our neighbors didn’t like us, we could live in a Jewish village.

In Israel, we are all in the same region, but we, the 135,000 Ethiopians in Israel, are a different color. It seems that a difference in color is what makes it different for Ethiopian Jews to live in certain places, get certain jobs or ride a bus proudly without stares.

We feel surrounded by injustice and discrimination. Like a pressure cooker under a rug, it burst out in an aggressive protest last month, triggered by an event caught in the lens of the camera where an innocent Ethiopian soldier in uniform, serving his country, was beaten brutally by Israeli police officers. How could this happen?

What is most painful for me is that the young generation of Ethiopians, born and raised in Israel, educated and serving in the Army like everybody else, needs to go through this unacceptable discrimination.

These young people are assets who can empower Israel to deal with its many challenges, but instead young Ethiopian Israelis are waging their own war of survival. Instead of using young people as a driving force for the State of Israel, young Ethiopian Israelis are fighting for basic justice. This kind of discrimination should not happen in any country, but certainly not in Israel, a state that was created by and for the Jewish people.

Yarden Fanta-Vagenshtein is a Research Associate at HBI and Senior Research Associate at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, Brandeis University. Her research areas are cross-culturalism, gender, immigration, knowledge and cognition in context. 


  1. Haim Sperber says:


  2. Thank you, Yarden, for your courage in opening up such a painful issue. I couldn’t agree with you more, that this discrimination is unworthy — of Jews and all others as well.

  3. Shame on all of us, we who have and continue to be discriminated against. Thank you for speaking out!

  4. Gila Jacobs says:

    Yarden, I knew you were special when you offered to park my car at Shula’s party!! Sorry I did not stay long enough to talk . Hope we meet again. I have a number of points of connection to the Ethiopian Jews in Israel, And would be interested if I could do something positive, Gila

  5. Fareda Banda says:

    A powerful and moving blog. Thank you Yarden for writing it, and to HBI for publishing it.

  6. Sigalit says:

    Yarden – Im glad you share your views anf feelings. My college graduating class and many other Israeli friends of mine ( including those who work in the Education ministry ) feel ashamed at the discriminating experiences every immigration suffered coming into Israel ( be the reason of that time!). I can only promise to continue and fight for equality and educate my students and surrounding friends more about the racism/ discrimination and equal rights in the world. We can’t miss the boat over and iver again. I am sad this is still happening in my own homeland where I was born and raised on Idealism so this won’t happen! ! ! And yet, it did/does. Hopefully we win against these actions and behaviors one at a time to make Israel and the whole world a better place.

  7. Dear Yarden,
    It was good to read your blog entry, which is quite topical. The Ethiopian issue in Israel remains a serious one, despite many efforts to solve it. As you know, I try to help by offering ISEF scholarships for higher education to Ethiopian students.
    When it comes to fighting for Human rights and against discrimination, Brandeis has lost its credibility. It reversed its 2014 decision to award an honorary degree to acclaimed human rights fighter, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for politically “correct” reasons. Brandeis University shunned an outstanding woman, who fights for millions of women and children the world over, who are deprived of human rights, in order to satisfy the political requests of a few. Freedom of speech on campus is extended to the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as in his 2007 appearance at Columbia University, but not to Ms. Ali.
    Therefore, Brandeis’ espousing the Ethiopian cause in Israel, sounds shallow to me, closer to the “fashion of the times” of bashing Israel. I personally find it demeaning to the validity of the Ethiopian cause as Brandeis has lost its authority and its past good name, the name of Justice Louis Brandeis, to fight for fairness for all.
    Nina A. Weiner
    President, ISEF

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