French Journal For Media Research

Orly Kayam

Public Discourse of Ethiopian Israelis in the Media


Ce document met l'accent sur un certain nombre de cas d'Israéliens éthiopiens, et examine le contexte de la langue utilisée pour les décrire dans les médias. Le but de l'étude est triple: a) examiner les échantillons de la couverture médiatique depuis leur immigration en Israël, afin de déterminer s'il y a une description stéréotypée; b) déterminer si les Israéliens éthiopiens sont intégrés dans la société israélienne ou sont marginalisés et considérés comme les «autres»; c) montrer les cas d'Israéliens éthiopiens qui sont devenus des modèles et une source de fierté pour toute la communauté israélienne éthiopienne.


This paper focuses on a number of cases of Ethiopian Israelis, and examines the context of the language used to describe them in the media. The aim of the study is threefold: a) To review samples of media coverage of Ethiopian Israelis since their immigration to Israel, in order to discover if there is a biased/stereotypical description of them; b) To determine – according to the electronic media and the press – whether Ethiopian Israelis are integrated into Israeli society or are marginalized and seen as the "other"; c) To show instances of successful Ethiopian Israelis who have become role models and a source of pride for the entire Ethiopian Israeli community. On television and in the press this group is still perceived as immigrants who are not fully integrated into Israeli society. This study scrutinizes instances of bias in reporting on Ethiopian Israelis and forces us to heighten our awareness of possible discrimination in the media.

Full text


1In light of events in the Ethiopian community and the Israeli society at large, there has been an exponential increase in media coverage of issues affecting the Ethiopian community in Israel. Unfortunately, the bulk of this coverage relates to issues of racism and police brutality. A number of demonstrations have been held by the Ethiopian community against the police. The first protest took place in Jerusalem on Thursday, April 30, 2015. This demonstration was triggered by an incident of police brutality against an Ethiopian Israeli soldier. This incident occurred in the town of Holon, where a policeman pushed the soldier to the ground and another policeman beat him repeatedly. The protest escalated to violence. Then, on Sunday, May 3, 2015, in a much larger demonstration that took place in Rabin Square in Tel-Aviv, thousands of people protested against police brutality, racism and discrimination against the Ethiopian community in Israel. This protest, which was triggered by a video of the soldier being beaten by policemen, opened the wounds of many years of frustration and demoralization experienced by this community.1 This demonstration also turned violent, and the police used tear gas and stun guns to disperse the demonstrators. However, 43 protesters were arrested and 56 policemen were wounded.2 The media – printed and electronic – recorded all that happened, and many interpretations of why it happened were given.

2 However, the Israeli press usually tends to diminish the presence of Ethiopian Israelis in the media. According to a study by IFAT media research3, Ethiopian Israelis are 1.7% of the Israeli population (according to the end of 2013), but they are covered in only 0.3% of the media content, including daily newspapers, leading news portals, television networks and national radio. According to the research, out of the 1,795 items that was dedicated to Ethiopian Israelis in the Israeli Media in 2015, more than 600 were about criminal matters, mainly youth crime, family murder and police violence. More than 500 of the items were about welfare and education, while most items emphasize the lack of integration of Ethiopian individuals and groups in the Israeli society.

3In the next paragraphs the author will attempt to explain the background of Ethiopian Jewry in Ethiopia and in Israel, in order to give a clearer understanding of Ethiopian Jews and their lives prior to immigration and since their immigration to Israel.

4Today there are 170,000 Ethiopian Jews living in Israel.4 Jews have existed in Ethiopia for many centuries;5 their exact origin is not known, but there are a few theories, such as that they are descendants of the marriage of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba or that they are descended from Yemenite Jews.6 Abraham Aescoli7 and Shalva Weil8 add that the Beta Israel, as they were known in Ethiopia, or Ethiopian Jews as they are known in Israel, practiced Judaism in Ethiopia based on the Pentateuch and not on Rabbinic Oral Law. They celebrated some of the holidays that Jews around the world celebrate and they circumcised their boys on the eighth day, but they also had holidays that were only celebrated by the Beta Israel, such as the Sigd festival.9   Trevisan-Semi10 relates that their communication with world Jewry took place when Dr. Jacques Faitlovitch came to Ethiopia at the beginning of the twentieth century and met members of the Beta Israel. His life work was to try and reduce the gap between the religious practice of the Beta Israel and that of world Jewry.11 His pioneering work, and that of emissaries from Israel and Jewish people from other countries, led to the eventual immigration of the Beta Israel to Israel. In the mid-1970s the Sephardi and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbis of Israel affirmed that the Beta Israel were Jews and were entitled to immigrate to Israel under the Israeli Law of Return.12In 1973, after the Yom Kippur War, Ethiopia cut off diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. At that time in Ethiopia there was famine and unrest, hunger and starvation, and the dangers of civil war. The Beta Israel’s lives were disrupted as they fled to Sudan, and they underwent much suffering. Many of their loved ones died on the long trek to the refugee camps. Families were separated and communities were wiped out. In 1984 Israel airlifted 7,700 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in “Operation Moses”, and 14,400 in “Operation Solomon” in 1991. After that, thousands of Falash Mura – descendants of Jews who had converted to Christianity, came to Israel as well.13

5 Researchers of migration issues have assumed that the Beta Israel who arrived in Israel from Ethiopia, as well as the next generation that was born in Israel, desire to become part of mainstream Israeli society. 14 Their wish in that case would be similar to the policy of the absorbing country, that is, to have them change their original Amharic names to Hebrew names, while at the same time allowing them to keep some token elements of Ethiopian Jewish culture. There is an alternative to this view of the desire of the Ethiopian Jews in Israel, and that is the one coined “everyday resistance.”15 According to Steven Kaplan, weak immigrant groups use

“the weapon of misleading, make-believe, suspiciousness, creation of an alternative discourse and subversive use of language, songs, fables, humor, folk stories, etc. This attitude has characterized the Beta Israel people in their encounters with their Amharic and Tigrinya neighbors, and was developed also against the Israeli society as a reaction to what was perceived by the immigrants as an intrusive intervention in the community life.” 16

6The absorbing society, however, views this reaction as “ignorance, as ‘cultural shock’, as objective difficulties, and as a product of intercultural gaps.”17Comparing the acculturation of the Ethiopian Jews to that of other immigrant groups has revealed that the Ethiopian Jews have encountered more arduous acclimatization hardships than the other groups.18  They were not recognized as Jews by many of the religious authorities and had to undergo conversion rituals. These immigrants, who were deeply religious, felt that this experience was demeaning.19  They were put into "absorption centers" where Israeli officials kept them separate from the host culture. Lastly, their skin color set them apart from other immigrants.20 There is a chasm between the Israeli absorption authorities’ plans and actions on behalf of the Ethiopian Jewish immigrants and the actual circumstances that the Ethiopian Jews found themselves in, such as being consideredan underclass in Israeli society.21

7      This paper is part of a series of research papers dealing with the integration of Ethiopian Jews with respect to language barriers and cultural differences. The first paper, Ethiopian Jewish Women: Language and Culture, deals with Ethiopian Jewish women and their advancement in the public and the private domains, in Israeli society and in the family setting.22 The second paper, Ethiopian Jewish Men: Language and Culture, deals with Ethiopian Jewish men and their adaptation struggles in their new homeland.23 The current paper examines media references to Ethiopian Israelis as to their sociolinguistic situation in Israel. How do the Israeli media describe Ethiopian Israelis to their subscribers, listeners and viewers? What is the image that the media wishes to convey to their Israeli subscribers of what Ethiopian Israelis are like? How close to reality is this description or image? The language used by the media to describe Ethiopian Israelis will be scrutinized. This paper aims to examine whether the general Israeli population is being exposed to a fair representation of Ethiopian Israelis and whether the information they are receiving is accurate or distorted. The topics that will be discussed are Ethiopian Israelis as depicted in television shows and in newspaper articles; instances of discrimination; and, representation of the Ethiopian experience in Israel since their immigration. While this paper deals with the image of Ethiopian Israelis presented in the Israeli media, a few examples of coverage in the world media are also included. The most prominent instance of world media coverage was the meeting of US President Barack Obama with the then reigning Miss Israel, Ethiopian-born Yityish Titi Aynaw.24

Literature Survey

Ethiopian Israelis on Israeli Television

8There has been a paucity of Ethiopian Israelis on Israeli television. This is an area that hopefully will change in the coming years. The following are samples of Ethiopian Israelis who have appeared on Israeli television:

9Maharata Baruch in "The Ambassador"

10Elias et al. examined the question of “hegemonic identity” as an issue in reality shows on television.25One of the programs they chose to study was The Ambassador, which aired on Israeli television in 2005. The purpose of the show was to choose a representative who would be sent abroad to explain Israeli political policies. The judges on the show came from the Israeli General Security Service, the Israeli Defense Forces and the like. They were a neutral group of people who represented the “dominant collective identity.”26 The participants in the show included members of minorities, and were chosen to reflect the diversity of Israeli society. The goal of the program was to select an envoy who had to have excellent rhetorical skills, a presentable appearance, and fluent English in order to be able to sway American public opinion to accept Israeli policy. In the first season that the program was aired, ten weekly episodes were broadcast. In these episodes, the participants were given collective and individual tasks. The judges asked them personal questions meant to help them decide if the participant lived up to the standard of what it meant to be Israeli. From the second episode and throughout the remaining episodes, it became clear that the contestants who qualified were native-born Israelis and the “Other” were the two immigrant contestants. The immigrants were Maharata Baruch, an Ethiopian immigrant, and Dafna Alfarassi who immigrated to Israel from Holland. Maharata is an example of an Ethiopian Jewish woman who has succeeded in Israeli society. She speaks Hebrew perfectly, is married to a veteran Israeli and is a film actress. She immigrated to Israel at age ten after the long trek through Sudan. Dafna, in contrast, came to Israel in her twenties. She is an MA student of diplomacy. She is blond. In spite of their differences, the other contestants tried to make a connection between them because they had been newimmigrants who did not have the mentality of the native Israeli. The judges also labeled them as cultural “Others.” Thus, the two immigrants decided that they had to widen the boundaries of what Israeli identity is by changing the program’s discourse to become more inclusive. While the other candidates saw Maharata as having the negative qualities associated with someone coming from Ethiopia, such as passivity and ignorance, Maharata actually offered an alternative image of Ethiopian Jewry – that of “tolerance, honesty and openness to people from other cultures”.27 By stressing the fact that Ethiopian Jewry’s trek through Sudan in order to come to Israel stemmed from Zionistic ideology and was a determined act of heroism, she attempted to show them not as passive refugees who were saved by the State of Israel’s rescue missions, but as a people of courage. She was proud to have participated in this journey to Israel. Dafna also suffered in the judges’ estimation, as her European background was considered a drawback because she was seen as too logical and formal, and lacking in Israeli qualities such as warmth and spontaneity. She stressed her choice to immigrate to Israel to accentuate her Zionist motivation. These two women bonded together at the point in the show where they realized that they would be disqualified from the show by the other contestants. Their joint move was to disqualify themselves as a protest against the “hegemonic definition of Israeliness”.28 The judges asked each woman to come to a special committee meeting separately, and to bring a “character witness” with them who would vouch for their suitability to be candidates for “ambassador.”  They also had to answer a battery of questions that would test their level of normative Israeliness. Dafna refused to play along. She did not answer the questions the judges asked her and did not bring a character witness, but brought her identity card as proof of her Israeli identity. Maharata, on the other hand, answered all the questions the judges asked her, and as a character witness she brought her counselor from the boarding school she attended after her arrival in Israel. Dafna was disqualified, and Maharata went on to the next stage of the show, eventually being one of the three finalists. Maharata survived the disqualification by surrendering to the hegemonic rules. This shows that Israeli society is not ready to include immigrants as being a part of normative Israeliness. Normative Israeliness is not yet ready to have the minority groups widen the boundaries of the dominant identity. Instead of searching for the ideal “ambassador,” the program searched for the most Israeli one.29

11In conclusion, it can be said that “The Ambassador” attempted to exhibit a false sense of pluralism that hid the true power relations in Israeli society.

Representation of Ethiopian Israelis in the Israeli Press

12When the Ethiopian Jews first came to Israel, there was a period when the Israeli society at large viewed them as part of the dark-skinned groups in Israel such as Yemenites or Jews from India, in an attempt to obscure the differences in the various groups making up Israeli society and to accentuate the reunification of all Jews in Israel. Israeli media coverage of issues relating to Ethiopian Israelis has ranged from questions about the authenticity of their Jewishness, the blood scandal, police discrimination, domestic violence and homicide. According to Shoham, the community was viewed with pity as they are weak and dependent, yet they have redeeming qualities such as strong Zionistic feelings and reverence for elders.30 In a previous study of how Ethiopians were depicted in the Israeli media, the conclusion was that most articles written about them depicted the Ethiopian community with “regards to poverty, racism, discrimination, diseases, drugs and murder.”31

13An early example of the negative image perpetrated in the media was that of the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv editor Shmuel Schnitzer’s article “Import of Death”, which appeared in the paper on August 19, 1994. Schnitzer took a stand against the immigration of the Falash Mura Ethiopians to Israel on the grounds that they might be carriers of infectious diseases. This article led to a public denunciation.32

14This description of the Ethiopian Jews as dangerous and as “others” was strengthened when, on January 24, 1996, an article appeared in Maariv that was written by an investigative journalist, Ronal Fischer.33 The article reported the fact that the Israeli blood bank had been destroying blood donations by Ethiopian Israelis over the course of 12 years. Ethiopian Israelis were not placated when the blood bank and Ministry of Health officials explained that this was done to “prevent contamination of the blood supply by high rates of infectious diseases among Ethiopian immigrants”, and felt that this was a cover-up for racial discrimination against them.34 On January 29, 1996 a violent demonstration between Ethiopian Israelis and the police ensued outside the Prime Minister’s offices in Jerusalem. The police were heavily outnumbered, arriving in small forces because they “knew the Ethiopians to be a quiet and retiring community”.35

15The "Blood Affair" (parashat ha-dam), as it was called then, proved that Ethiopian Israelis could and would resort to the use of violence for their survival as an integral part of Israeli society. The use of the Hebrew words lo niten dameinu hefker, which translates to "we will not let our blood be ownerless", was chanted at the demonstration. In the context of the demonstration it meant that they would not allow their blood donations to be destroyed. It had a deeper meaning too – that Ethiopian Israelis were from then on going to be treated just like other Israeli adult citizens who are responsible for their own blood and sexuality, as the issue referred to HIV. The next morning, on January 29, 1996, the newspaper headline in another daily newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, p. 3, was: “Like Gaza During the Intifada”.36 One police officer asked in astonishment in that article how was it possible for the quiet Ethiopians to stage such a violent demonstration, which was worse than the worst fighting in Gaza during the intifada. Forty-one police officers were injured in the demonstration. This issue and protest uncovered covert racism, and the society at large could not continue to deny its existence.37

16On another subject, Efrat Shoham examined the coverage of “spousal homicide” in the Israeli daily press. She chose samples of headlines of newspaper articles that dealt with this topic and which appeared in the newspapers from 2007 to 2009. Two such headlines were: “Who will stop the violence against women in the Ethiopian community?” (Maariv, January 18, 2009), and “The Ethiopian community: 11 murdered in 4 years (Yediot Aharonot, December 23, 2008).  These headlines and articles mentioned the fact that the victims were Ethiopian. Naming of the place of origin in the press did not occur if the victim was a non-Ethiopian Israeli.38  By telling the place of origin the Israeli public was getting the message that it happens to "them" but not to "us". Thus the Ethiopians were seen as “others” who are generally a quiet people but whose men are capable of horrific acts of violence against their women. The way in which these articles explained the circumstances of the murders gave the impression that murders of women by their husbands was exclusively a characteristic of the Ethiopian community. The press also put the blame on the leaders of the Ethiopian community, who were allegedly not doing enough to end this domestic violence. The problems of the couple became the problems of the whole Ethiopian community, which had not integrated socially or financially into mainstream society. Most reports said that the couple lived in a poor neighborhood and had a large number of children. This left the impression in the readers’ minds that all Ethiopian Israelis lived in poor neighborhoods and neglected their children.39

17In marked contrast to the articles cited above, Haaretz journalist Meirav Arlosoroff wrote an article titled “Ethiopians in Israel: A success” (Haaretz English Edition, July 9, 2015)40 which emphasized the achievements of the second generation, those Ethiopians who were born in Israel or who arrived at a very young age. Reporting on a study published by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel she wrote: “A huge gap was seen between the first and second generation, a gap so great that it shows successful integration of the second generation in Israel.” And with regards to the recent community protests, she puts a positive spin writing: “…it is testimony that the Ethiopian community is growing stronger and has reached such a level of strength that it can loudly demand its rights.”

18Yediot Nagat (Nugget News)

19For the last ten years the daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot has been publishing a monthly newspaper for and about the Ethiopian Israeli community, called Yediot Nagat in Hebrew, or “Nugget News”. This paper is put out in conjunction with the steering committee for Ethiopians at the Ministry of Education. The editorials are about the struggles, the challenges and the successes of the community. The articles are written in Hebrew and in Amharic, a language they spoke in Ethiopia. In an article that appeared in the February, 2014 issue under the headline in Hebrew “Lo Rotsim Lehiyot Olim Nitschiim", meaning “We don’t want to be eternal immigrants”, the editor explained that there was a new manager in the Department of Absorption of immigrants from Ethiopia who is an Ethiopian himself, and who explained that a new policy was needed to make sure that the mistakes of the past would not be repeated. He explained that his office is there to help all Ethiopian immigrants, but especially those who have arrived in the last few years and those who are continuing to arrive. He explained that the goal is that Ethiopian immigrants will eventually not need the services of his office, but that they will be integrated into society.41 On the surface this bi-lingual newspaper has the capacity to open the door to multi-culturalism, and to not only assist the Ethiopian Jews in Israel but also to enlighten the broader Israeli society about the Ethiopian Israeli community’s customs, holidays, integration problems, and many more aspects of their existence. However, research found:

“Nugget News represents the trend of implicit assimilation of the Ethiopian immigrant community by the State of Israel by means of the educational system. The newspaper articles are mentioned that present unique elements of the community, such as: the voyage to the Land of Israel, the Sigd holiday, the community customs, etc. However, the number of such articles is relatively small, while most of the articles are devoted to the wish and to the tools for successful integration into the Israeli society".42

Media Coverage of Ethiopian Israelis in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)  

20The general impression given in the Hebrew press is that Ethiopian Israelis are highly motivated and serve in officer positions. However, in two articles that appeared in the English edition of the daily newspaper Haaretz (June 18, 2013 and Sept. 29, 2014), we see a highlighting of the negative rather than the positive. Right from the headlines, “IDF soldiers of Ethiopian descent are more likely to land in military prison or desert”, and “One in four Ethiopians in IDF did not complete army service in 2013”, the negative story is emphasized. To avoid this impression, the headline of the second article could have read: "Three out of four Ethiopians completed army service in 2013". Then, the sub-headline of that article states, “Only 2.3% of soldiers of Ethiopian extraction became officers last year.” The author of the article used the word “only”, which is a subjective word when used, and although it reports the fact that 2.3% of the soldiers of Ethiopian extraction did become officers that year, it does so in a negative way. The very wording of the headline and sub-headline points out the negative. Only at the very end of the article are two very positive phenomena described: the first is that for the prior three years there was a decrease in the percentage of special-needs Ethiopian soldiers and an increase in the number of men and women who excel on the pre-army evaluation test; the second is that fewer Ethiopian soldiers were sent to prison in 2013 than in 2012. These are two important and positive changes, however, they are only noted at the end of the article. Thus we conclude that the intent of the articles was to stress the negative situation of Ethiopian Israelis in the IDF.43

21Another article dealing with Ethiopians in the IDF appeared in the February 2014issue of Yediot Nagat. The editor claims that a course in QA (Quality Assurance) is being offered in the army exclusively to Ethiopian soldiers. There has been criticism of segregated education within the Ethiopian community and in the general Israeli society. In this case, the IDF and the soldiers involved see this course as a temporary instance of segregation, with the goal being the eventual integration of the Ethiopian soldiers in prestigious positions in the army. The officer in charge of the course explains that this course is geared to providing the Ethiopian soldiers with the chance to advance by giving them the tools they need to learn and to gain experience at the same time. Upon completion of the course these Ethiopian soldiers will have gained knowledge and self-enhancement, and will then integrate with the rest of the soldiers until the completion of their army service.44

Ethiopian Israelis as role models in the media

22There have been a number of Ethiopian Israelis who have become successful in different fields in the broader Israeli society, and are positive role models for the Ethiopian community at large. For the most part their numbers are small, and in some fields they are the only ones to have made it to the top. The following presents a sample of media reports of Ethiopian Israeli success stories in such fields as politics, literature, music, sports, entertainment and theater.

23Yityish Titi Aynaw

24Yityish Titi Aynaw became the first Ethiopian Miss Israel in 2013. She was born in Ethiopia in 1991 and immigrated to Israel in 2001. Aynaw’s selection as Miss Israel was of course covered in all the Israeli media outlets, but she garnered even wider coverage when President Obama met with her during his visit to Israel in 2013. While this coverage was on the whole positive, some found issues to complain about. In an online Australian newspaper called Daily Life (February, 27, 2013), Ruby Hamad wrote an article “The hypocrisy of a black Miss Israel”, in which she warned the public not to get excited about Aynaw’s success. In her opinion there was "endemic discrimination" against the Ethiopian community in Israel, and that just because Aynaw managed to succeed it did not mean that barriers to success for Ethiopian Israelis were no longer in existence.45 In response, HonestReporting (April 2, 2013), an online newspaper that facilitates accurate reporting for foreign journalists covering Israel and the Middle East, claimed that although having an Ethiopian Miss Israel may not be the beginning of a new era of racial harmony, Israel should not be blamed for honoring her success.  Aynaw had to strive hard to reach that success and she is a source of pride and inspiration for the entire Ethiopian community. 46

25Tehonia Rubal

26Tehonia Rubal was the first Ethiopian Israeli to win a beauty contest when she won the Israeli “Super Model” in 2012. In 2013 she participated in the fifth season of the reality show “Big Brother” and won first prize. Israel's Channel 2 aired a movie about her life on May 10, 2014 called “Bekohot Atzma” (“She did it on her own”), which told her life story from her childhood and until she won first prize on “Big Brother”. Galit Gutman interviewed her in the movie and she encouraged Rubal, one of eleven children, to explain how she got to where she is today.47

27Ester Rada

28Ester Rada is an actress, singer, songwriter and performer. She was born in Kiryat Arba in 1985 to an Ethiopian family who had arrived in Israel a year before her birth. Today she acts in movies and is a singer of soul music who writes her own songs. She was married to fellow Ethiopian Gili Yalu, a member of Zvuloon Dub System, an Israeli reggae band.48 Rada’s musical talent and performance on stage was described in the press as a mixture of power and sweetness, peppered with charm (Haaretz digital edition January 19, 2013). She sings in English, but doesn’t want to sound as if she is an American soul music singer. She has also added Ethiopian musical touches to her songs, which makes her unique among black soul music singers. When asked why she doesn’t sing in Hebrew, she responded that she feels at this stage of her career her songs are more "magnificent" in English, and she wants to sing abroad as well as in Israel. 49

29Rada appeared on Israeli television’s Channel 10 show “London and Kirshenbaum”, hosted by the two veteran Israeli journalists Yaron London and Moti Kirschenbaum (uploaded on YouTube on Jan. 29, 2013), and gave a live performance of her hit song “Life Happens”. Her music was described on the show as having elements of R&B, Funk, and Ethio-jazz.50

30Rada was also interviewed on Channel 1’s cultural magazine show “HaZira” (“The Arena”). The interview was uploaded on YouTube on May 23, 2013. The interviewer, Gal Uchovsky, asked her if she feels she has to represent the Ethiopian Israeli community. Rada responded that she doesn’t feel that way at all – that she represents herself. She explained that before her marriage she wanted to be like everyone else, so she rejected her Ethiopian side and just wanted to be Israeli. But since her marriage she has returned to her Ethiopian roots and speaks and sings in Amharic.51

31Abate Berihon

32Abate Berihon has put Ethio-Jazz on the Israeli musical map. Berihon was born in Ethiopia in 1967 and immigrated to Israel in 1999. He plays the saxophone and is a leading jazz musician in Israel. He heads the ensemble “Shabta.” According to Liron Nagler-Cohen (May 31, 2011), who wrote about Berihon on Ynet of Yediot Aharonot, Abate Berihon had a musical career in Addis Ababa, where he played in the international theatre. After his immigration he went through absorption difficulties, and found himself washing dishes and working as a watchman. He was then discovered by the Organization for the Promotionof Ethiopian Culture. He has since won four prizes in Israel and released three albums. In his latest album he plays liturgical poetry set to Ethiopian melodies. Berihon’s vision is to build a musical conservatory for Ethiopian children. He said he has not seen Ethiopian children studying at a conservatory and wants to change that situation, so that  Ethiopian children will have the possibility of getting a musical education.52

33Yossi Vassa

34Yossi Vassa is an actor. He came to Israel from Ethiopia via Sudan and settled in Netanya. He has a one-man play called “It Sounds Better in Amharic”.  The play is a combination of storytelling and stand-up comedy. It has been translated from Hebrew and has been performed in the US, Canada and Europe, with great success. The theme of the show is culture clash. Vassa mixes memories of his life in Ethiopia with funny aspects of adjustment to life in Israel, such as “dating, learning math, watching TV, getting assigned a new name and other immigrant foibles” (Rubien, February 9, 2006).53  According to Aryeh  Tepper, a reporter for Jewish Ideas Daily (August 26, 2010), Vassa’s message in his play is that Ethiopian Jews should be proud of their heritage and that despite their economic and social difficulties, they should not see themselves as victims or objects of pity, but to believe that they have much to add to Israeli society and to play an active role in that society.54

35Biranhe Teganya

36The most visible Ethiopian in the Israeli media is Channel 2 reporter Biranhe Teganya.

37In the first interview that he gave to a reporter, in the Globes business online newspaper (Avivi, January 18, 2012), he was described as the man who broke through the barrier that has held Ethiopian Israelis back, becoming the diligent and successful reporter that he is today. He reports on topics dealing with crime, and has brought issues that were kept on the sidelines to the forefront of the news. Teganya stated in his interview that when the Ethiopians first came to Israel, they were seen as a very gentle and shy people who didn’t make waves. That, in his opinion, was their undoing and the reason that they are discriminated against. He himself has gotten rid of that stereotype and is no longer seen as Biranhe the Ethiopian, but as Biranhe Teganya the man. When a report is aired that he has written, the public knows it will deal mostly with Ethiopians. Teganya said that he feels he is the spokesperson for the Ethiopian community. He ferrets out instances of racism in Israeli society, and these are generally broadcast on the news. Biranhe Teganya has become a very popular personality, to such an extent that he is impersonated on the Channel 2 satiric show “Eretz Nehederet” (“A Wonderful Country”). Teganya was listed among the 100 best journalists in the country. In an interview that he granted to the research team for this study, Teganya stated that in the last seven years there has been a more positive trend of televising all that is connected to the Ethiopian community. He feels that the Ethiopian community knows the power of the media, and members of the community turn to Teganya with positive stories, reports of instances where they are discriminated against and criminal stories. If an Ethiopian singer comes to Israel, Teganya will write a story about him or her that will be broadcast on the news. Teganya airs stories that interest him about Ethiopian entrepreneurs. One of these stories was about an Ethiopian woman who worked in hi-tech. She searched for makeup for black women all over Israel and couldn’t find any. She went to the United States and found that a vast amount of makeup for black women was available there. She came back to Israel and opened a company that sells makeup for the black woman. Another story he reported on Channel 2 was about a man who lives in an immigrant area in Rehovot, where he saw Ethiopian children who were roaming the streets. The man started a football team for those children. While these stories are aired, Teganya has Ethiopian music playing in the background. Thus, along with pictures of Ethiopians, the Israeli viewers are introduced to Ethiopian music. In this way Teganya is trying to bring topical Ethiopian feature stories to the Israeli public.55

38Beza Nebevah

39Beza Nebevah has appeared in the media several times, including on YouTube, for his various achievements in sports (Cohen, July 5, 2011). He was born in Ethiopia in 1983. He was born blind. He immigrated to Israel at the age of seven. Today he is a sprinter who runs in marathons and is ranked fifth in the world among blind runners, according to Wikipedia. He took part in the Paralympics in Beijing and came in twenty-third. He is the only blind athletic coach in the world, and he coaches visually impaired children. Despite being blind, he has climbed Mt. Everest.56 His motto, according to Goren of NRG, Maariv’s online paper (May 30, 2011), is to prove to everyone that even a handicapped person can do the unbelievable.57 He appeared on Israel’s Educational TV channel on a children’s show called “Tiru Oti” (“Look at Me”), which was uploaded to YouTube on December 19, 2013. He explains to the audience that there were people who didn’t believe that he could succeed, because of his blindness. Beza Nebevah took that disbelief and changed it into a challenge that motivated him to strive harder. He trains every day for about an hour-and-a-half to two hours. He trains with a runner who sees, and they work as a team. Each day he has someone else run with him. These are the secretsof his success.58

40Dalia Betolin-Sherman

41Dalia Betolin-Sherman was interviewed on morning television (Channel 10’s “Orly V’Guy”) and in the press on the occasion of the publication of her book “How the World Turned White” in 2013. Betolin-Sherman immigrated to Israel in 1984 at the age of four. She has an M.A. in Hebrew literature and is a writer.59 According to an interview that she gave to Daniel Bashach of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (August 29, 2013), hers is the first book that deals with Ethiopian immigrants without talking in clichés. She delved into the souls of the Ethiopian immigrants, without discussing the difficulties of absorption into the society or talking about racism. “How the World Turned White” contains seven stories that were written in the first person, but from the point of view of different characters from the Ethiopian community. It tells of their first days in Israel, the tensions between a mother and a daughter, and new immigrant girls in school with veteran Israeli girls, among other stories. Most Israelis don’t know about the routine life of Ethiopians. They are viewed at a distance. They are always seen as immigrants, even though many of them have been in Israel thirty years or more. Dalia Betolin-Sherman’s aim was to have the reader view Ethiopians as people, and less as Ethiopians. The immigrant experience depends to a great extent on the strengths that that person brings with him or her to that situation. Those who come to Israel as children are more flexible. Older immigrants have known a different lifestyle and have to wipe out all they knew and adapt to the new. Dalia Betolin-Sherman’s characters depict this situation, where children teach their parents the basics of life in their new country.60

Ethiopians in the political limelight

42Belaynesh Zevadia

43Belaynesh Zevadia is Israel’s first Ethiopian Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia. Zevadia immigrated to Israel in 1984, and in 2012, after 28 years in Israel, she returned to her birthplace as its ambassador. Herb Keinon (February 28, 2012) of the Jerusalem Post explained that Zevadia is the first Ethiopian-born Israeli diplomat and the first Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia. She came to Israel when she was sixteen years old. She has a B.A. in international relations and an M.A. in anthropology and African studies from the Hebrew University. She worked for the Jewish Agency during Operation Moses, the airlift that took place from November 21, 1984 to January 5, 1985, which brought some 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to the country, and helped ease the initial absorption pains of the immigrants. She has previously served at Israel’s consulates in Houston and Chicago. When asked about her appointment as ambassador, Zevadia said that Israel gives opportunities to all – veteran Israelis and new immigrants alike.61

44Adisu Mesala

45Adisu Mesala was the first Ethiopian Member of the Knesset (Israel's Parliament). He served in the 14th Knesset as a member of the Labor Party. Before becoming a Member of the Knesset (MK) he was a leader of the protest against Magen David Adom and the blood bank in the Blood Affairin 1996, described above. As an MK he was concerned with the large dropout rate of Ethiopian students from school. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times (Miller, May 30, 1998), Mesala explained that Ethiopian students were subjected to the same teaching methods in language education as all immigrants. However, their cultural differences weren’t taken into consideration in their educational instruction. During his term in the Knesset he tried to rectify this situation.62

46Shlomo Molla

47Pnina Tamano-Shata and Shimon Solomon

48Israel’s 19th Knesset had two Ethiopian members, Pnina Tamano-Shata and Shimon Solomon. According to Cohen (January 26, 2013) of Ynet, PninaTamano-Shata was the first Ethiopian Israeli woman to be elected to the Knesset. She is a member of Yair Lapid’s “Yesh Atid” political party. Pnina Tamano-Shata immigrated to Israel in 1984 at the age of three. In Israel her family was very poor and she started working when she was eleven years old. According to Tamano-Shata, she knew what it was to be mistreated, and that experience made her stronger and able to stand up for her rights. She became a lawyer and a news correspondent. When she decided to go into politics, she believed that Yair Lapid’s social agenda suited her and that as a member of the “Yesh Atid” party she could make a difference. She is interested in promoting legislation that fights discrimination and that includes affordable housing.64 Yenehun (August 5, 2014) of Ethiopian News and Opinion says that Tamano-Shata “has emerged as a leading advocate for the rights of Ethiopian Jews and for her work assisting the underprivileged throughout Israel.”65 Garmau Mengistu (February, 2014) of Yediot Nagat, quotes Tamano-Shata’s views on improving the scholastic achievement of Ethiopian children. She said that does not accept the view that Ethiopian children are less qualified to succeed scholastically than other Israeli children, and that the key is to believe in the children’s ability to succeed. She believes in integration within the formal education structure of the Ministry of Education.66

49Shimon Solomon was also elected to the Knesset on the “Yesh Atid” list. Solomon immigrated to Israel in 1980. According to Yenehun (August 5, 2014) of Ethiopian News and Opinion, Solomon is active as the leader of numerous organizations that assist Ethiopian Jews in Israel, and is a major in the IDF reserves – paratroopers unit. In the past Solomon was the educational director at the Aghozo-Shalom Youth Village, which is a rehabilitation center for traumatized orphans in Rwanda.67  According to Gabe Fisher (January 23, 2013) of The Times of Israel, Solomon “focuses on Ethiopian and refugee issues in Israel.”68 Garmau Mengistu (February, 2014) of Yediot Nagat, quotes Solomon’s views on improving the educational achievements of Ethiopian children. Solomon believes that the key for success in education for Ethiopian children is informal education.69


50According to Efrat Shoham, for the most part the media coverage of the Ethiopian Israeli community does not depict that community as being “…an integral part of Israeli society. It is nearly impossible to find an instance when a person of Ethiopian origin appeared in a broadcasted discussion as a topical expert in a matter that is not ethnicity related.”70 Though their struggles and successes are explained in Yediot Nagat, where their customs are shown off in a positive context, for the most part the news coverage has shown the Ethiopian Israelis in a negative light. Shoham explains that “this type of coverage implies that they are the other', who threatens the social order”. Yediot Nagat is not widely circulated, but if it were it could help heighten Israeli society’s awareness of the rich history that the Ethiopian Israeli community has and of their successes.71

51On the other hand, Biranhe Teganya stated in his interview with the research team of this study that until the end of the 1990s, Israeli television was very conservative and didn’t really know how to relate to the Ethiopians. However, from the year 2000 and on, Israeli television became more liberal and expanded to include Channel 2, Channel 10 and the Internet. Israeli viewers began to see the Ethiopian community on prime-time television. He said that from 2007 they became familiar with his black face. He was able to tell the story on air of an Ethiopian woman whose family had mourned her death in Sudan only to find out that she was alive, and was reunited with her family. The story was given four minutes on prime time. This would not have happened in the 1990s. As to the newspaper articles about Ethiopians, Teganya said there is no newspaper that is against Ethiopians. They report what happens in the news that will interest the readers. Newspapers, however, have political agendas as well. The visual media in Israel is not identified with political agendas – it just broadcasts the stories.

52A positive trend, which it is hoped will continue, is reflected in the election of Ethiopian Israeli Members of Knesset and the appointment of Israel’s first Ethiopian Israeli as ambassador to Ethiopia. These achievements are a source of pride for the community and a hope for a better future. The inclusion of Ethiopian Israelis in other fields as well, such as literature, music, sports and television, is a sign that there is a demand for their greater inclusion in all aspects of Israeli society.

53Thus, a major conclusion of this research is that we are beginning to see a more unbiased and fair picture of the Ethiopian Israeli community in the mainstream press and on television. It is hoped that the trend will continue and that many more Ethiopians will find their rightful place in society. Israeli society and the rest of the world should clearly understand who the Ethiopian Israelis are, what they are struggling for, what successes they have had and what challenges lie ahead of them. The current unrest will hopefully serve to heighten awareness of these issues. Despite this unrest, let us not forget that there are positive developments happening today in the Ethiopian community in many arenas that encompass Israeli society at large.

54I wish to thank Biranhe Teganya for giving us his time and sharing his insight on issues affecting the Ethiopian community.


1 1. The video that started it all was reported in the article that appeared in the Haaretz newspaper: “Baltimore Meets Holon: Police Brutality against Ethiopian-Israeli Caught on Tape” by Haaretz journalist Don Futterman, Apr. 29, 2015, 6:56 PM.

2 2. The first demonstration was reported in the article: Police failed to prepare for Ethiopian Israeli protest, officers say Haaretz,  May 2, 2015, 3:22 PM; the second demonstration was reported in the article: “Dozens Injured in Ethiopian-Israeli Protest against Police Brutality in Tel Aviv” by journalist Shirly Seidler, May 4, 2015, 12:02 AM,|of Haaretz newspaper.

3 3. Nati Toker, A Research: Media Coverage of Ethiopian Israelis in the Media is Mostly About Crime and Welfare. (2015) The Marker [Hebrew]

4 4.  Taken from the Central Statistics Bureau (2008) in Lea Baratz, Roni Reingold, and Hannah Abuhatzira (2011). “Bilingual Newspaper as an Expression of a Fake Multicultural Educational Policy in Israel. International Education Studies 4.4 (2008): 160-69.

5 5. Steven Kaplan, The Beta Israel (Falasha) in Ethiopia (New York, 1992), 14-32.

6 6. David Kessler, The Falashas: The Forgotten Jews of Ethiopia (London: 1982), 41-47, 77.

7 7. Abraham Aescoli, The Falashas: A Bibliography, in Kiryat Sefer, 12 (Jerusalem, 1935/6), 254-56, 370-83, 498-505.

8 8. Shalva Weil, The Religious Beliefs and Practices of Ethiopian Jews in Israel (Jerusalem: NCJW Research Institute for Innovation in Education, The Hebrew University Of Jerusalem, 1991), 38-39 [Hebrew].

9 9. David Kessler, The Falashas: The Forgotten Jews of Ethiopia (London, 1982), 41-47, 77.

10 10. Emanuela Trevisan-Semi, “The Educational Activity of Jacques Faitlovitch in Ethiopia (1904-1924),” Pe'amim 58 (1994): 98-103 [Hebrew].

11 11. Abraham Aescoli, The Falashas: A Bibliography, in Kiryat Sefer, 12 (Jerusalem, 1935/6), 254-256, 370-383, 498-505.

12 12. Emanuela Trevisan-Semi, “The Educational Activity of Jacques Faitlovitch in Ethiopia (1904-1924), ”Pe'amim", 58(1994), 98-103[Hebrew].

13 13. Ibid.

14 14. Lea Baratz, Roni Reingold, and Hannah Abuhatzira, “Bilingual Newspaper as an Expression af a Fake Multicultural Educational Policy in Israel,” International Education Studies 4.4. (2011): 160-69.

15 15. Ibid., 161

16 16. Steven Kaplan, “Everyday Resistance among Ethiopian Jews, View Out of the Research, View Upon the Research,” Theory and Criticism, 10 (1997): 162-73 [Hebrew].

17 17. Ibid.

18 18. Ibid.

19 19. Richard V. Bourhis and Joelle Dayan, “Acculturation Orientations towards Israeli Arabs and Jewish Immigrants in Israel,” International Journal of Psychology 39.2 (2004): 118-31; Malka Shabtay, Best Brother: The Identity Journey of Ethiopian Immigrant Soldiers (Tel Aviv, 1999) [Hebrew].

20 20. Uri Ben-Eliezer, “Becoming a Black Jew: Cultural Racism and Anti-racism in Contemporary Israel,” Social Identities, 10.2: 245-66; Gadi Ben-Ezer, Like a Light in a Jar: Immigration and Absorption of Ethiopian Jews (Jerusalem, 1992): [Hebrew]; and Michael Corinaldi, Ethiopian Jewry: Identity and Tradition (Jerusalem, 1998) [Hebrew].

21 21. Girma Berhanu, “Normality, Deviance, Identity, Cultural Tracking & School Achievement: The Case of Ethiopian Jews in Israel,” Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 49 (2005): 51-82.

22 22. Orly Kayam, Ethiopian Jewish Women: Language and Culture (in press).

23 23. Orly Kayam, (2014). “Ethiopian Jewish Men: Language and Culture,” European Journal of Business and Social Science Vol. 3, Issue 5, pp 1-11.

24 24. HonestReporting. (April 2, 2013). The hypocrisy of a black Miss Israel? HonestReporting.

25 25. Nelly Elias, Amal Jamal, and Orly Soker, (2009). “Illusive Pluralism and Hegemonic Identity in Popular Reality Shows in Israel,” Television & New Media 10.5 (2009): 375-91.

26 26. Ibid. 377.

27   27. Ibid. 380.

28 28. Ibid. 383.

29 29. Ibid. 384.

30  30. Efrat Shoham,  “The Coverage of ‘Spousal Homicide’ in the Ethiopian Community in the Israeli Daily Press. Journal of Politics and Law 6.2. (2013).

31  31. Bahar, 2003, cited in Shoham, 2013.

32  32. Don Seeman, “One People, One Blood” Public Health, Political Violence & HIV in an Ethiopian-Jewish Setting,”Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry (1999): 159-95.

33  33. Ibid.

34  34. Ibid. 160.

35  35. Ibid. 162.


37 37. Ibid.

38 38. Efrat Shoham (2013). The Coverage of ‘Spousal Homicide’ in the Ethiopian Community in the Israeli Daily Press. Journal of Politics and Law 6.2 (2013).

39 39. Dafna Lemish (2007). The Politics of Minority Exclusion in the Media: The Image of Women Victims of Violence. In Dan Caspi (Ed.), Media and Politics in Israel (Jerusalem/Tel Aviv, 2007), 185-207 [Hebrew].


41 41. Yediot Nagat. (Feb. 2014) "Lo Rotsim Lehiyot Olim Nitschiyim,” [Hebrew].

42 42. Lea Baratz, Roni Reingold, and Hannah Abuhatzira, “Bilingual Newspaper as an Expression of a Fake Multicultural Educational Policy in Israel,” International Education Studies 4.4. (2011): 160-69.

43 43. GiliCohen (September 29, 2014) 1 in 4 Ethiopians in IDF did not complete army service in 2013. Haaretz English Edition. p. 2; Gili Cohen. (June 18, 2013). IDF soldiers of Ethiopian descent are more likely to land in military prison or desert. Haaretz English Edition.

44 44. GarmauMengistu (February, 2014). “Hafrada Virtualit,” Yediot Nagat 6 [Hebrew].

45 45. RubyHamad, (February 27, 2013). The hypocrisy of a black Miss Israel. Daily Life.

46 46. HonestReporting. (April 2, 2013). The hypocrisy of a black Miss Israel? HonestReporting.

47 47. The Times of Israel Staff (August 28, 2013,); “Bekohot Atzma” (“May 10, 2014)

48 48. Ben Shalev (January 19, 2013). Israel’s Soul Sister Chooses to Sing in English. HaaretzDigital Edition.

49 49. Ibid.

50 50. Israel Television (uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 29, 2013). Ester Rada - Life Happens live @ London and Kirshenbaum [Hebrew].

51 51. Channel 1 (May 23, 2013) HaZira – Interview with the Singer Ester Rada [Hebrew].

52 52.  Liron Nagler-Cohen (May 31, 2011. Ibn Gevirol b'Amharit [Hebrew]. Yediot Aharonot.,7340L-4076568,00.html

53 53. David Rubien (February 9, 2006). Talk about Exodus – Yossi Vassa survived the real thing. SF Gate.

54 54. Aryeh Tepper (August 26, 2010). It Sounds Better in Amharic. Jewish Ideas Daily.

55 55. Yuval Avivi (January 18, 2012) Interview with Biranhe Teganya. Im lo eheye chazak yirmisu oti. Globes [Hebrew].

56 56. H. Cohen (July 5, 2011). Beza Nevebah Ratz Lemerchakim Katavah Behadashot Sof Shavua Arutz 1. (Hebrew).

57 57. YuvalGoren (May 5, 2011). Nitzachon Haruach Al Hachoshech: Iver Mileyda Meamen Ritza [Hebrew]. NRG.

58 58. Educational Television (uploaded to YouTube on December 10, 2013). Tiru Oti – Beza Nevebah [Hebrew].

59 59. DaliaBetolin-Sherman (2013). How the World Turned White (Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan, Dvir).

60 60. D. Bashach (August 29, .2013). Interview with Dalia Bituolin-Sherman. Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews.

61 61. Herb Keinon (February 28, 2012). Diplomacy and Politics. The Jerusalem Post.

62 62. Marjorie Miller (May 30, 1998). Israel’s Success in Teaching Hebrew Linked to Ideology.Los Angeles Times online newspaper.

63 63. MaxineDovere (September 30, 2012). From Ethiopia to the Knesset: Shlomo Molla Lives the Israeli Dream. The Algemeiner online.

64 64. GiliCohen (June 18, 2013). IDF soldiers of Ethiopian descent are more likely to land in military prison or desert. Haaretz English Edition.

65 65. Yenehun (5.8.2014). Israeli Elections and the rise of New Generation Ethiopian Israelis. Ethiopian News and Opinion.

66 66. GarmauMengistu (February, 2014).”Hamatara Hamishutefet: Shipur Hachinuch” (Hebrew) Yediot Nagat. 4.

67 67. Yenehun (5.8.2014). Israeli Elections and the rise of New Generation Ethiopian Israelis. Ethiopian News and Opinion.

68     68. GabeFischer (January 23, 2013). "All the kingmaker’s men, and women"The Times of Israel.

69 69. GarmauMengistu (February, 2014).”Hamatara Hamishutefet: Shipur Hachinuch” Yediot Nagat. 4 [Hebrew].

70 70.  Efrat Shoham, “The Coverage of ‘Spousal Homicide’ in the Ethiopian Community in the Israeli Daily Press,” Journal of Politics and Law 6.2 (2013): 188.

71 71. Ibid. 189.

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