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An Ethiopian teen's principled refusal to join the IDF

Y.E.S. – Young Ethiopian Students” have published a letter from one of their readers, an 18-year-old  about to join the IDF. The story of the Ethiopian community in Israel is one of the most profoundly shameful chapters in the history of the state, which deserves a separate post; but I will only say the Ethiopian community is among the worst discriminated minorities in Israel, competing in underprivileged only with the Bedouins of the Negev (the situation of the community of migrant workers and refugees is quite beyond comparison on any local scale). Nevertheless, the state has no qualms about recruiting young Ethiopians to the IDF – almost exclusively as grunts to the military police, border police and the infantry, presenting it as a first step on the scale of social mobility – more often than not a bare-faced lie. The letter is also remarkable in how it distills so many horrors of the Ethiopian experience in Israel into a handful of lines: The contemptuous housing company, the violent police, the racist teachers, the parents – in all probability, the first-generation immigrants – forced to rely on the help of their 18-year-old son; and everywhere, the ever-present racism.  A separate mention needs to be made of the draftee’s pondering  over  suicide, a chilling reminder of the state’s unforgivable presumption of placing the “value” of military service on so high a pedestal killing yourself appears as viable option. In the past decade, Israel lost more soldiers to suicide than to conflict.

To Y.E,S,
My name is _____, and I live in ______.
First of all, I wanted to say I’m a fan and this is why I’m writing to ask you a question. I’m about to be drafted. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I used to think about which role I should serve in, [but] now I’m confused. I actually think I don’t know whether I should serve. If the duty to serve applies to me.
If I go to the army, there’s chance I could die. If I die, who will take my parents to ask Amidar [public housing company] to fix the stairs, the cracks in the roof and the leak that we suffered from for years? If I join the army and then die, who will go and talk to my brothers’ teachers? Who will protect my family if police decide to kick in the door of our house? Who will protect them from racism?
If I die in the army, who will listen to my little brother, who’s already being picked on by his preschool teacher, that he should go to a special needs school?
Now I’m scared to death just thinking I could die in the army. I don’t know what to do, should I join or not? I think more and more it might be better for me to kill myself. On the other hand, if I kill myself, who will defend my parents and brothers? Who will fight for them?
So I’m getting this thought out of my head. I’m saying right now I’ll stay and I’ll fight for my home. For my family. Right now I’m not strong enough to defend others. I’ve made up my mind, this is it. I don’t want to serve in a racist state.
And anyway, if I’m taken captive nobody will know, they’ll barely notice I”m gone.
And if I die in the army, who will help my family, who’ll protect them from racism? Who’ll protect them from letters by teachers, by police, by the bailiffs, the court and all of these. No, I don’t want to serve in the army. I don’t have the luxury. I’ve been fighting for 18 years already. Now I’m a product of open and covert racism. I feel my duty is to stay and help my parents, I’ll find a proper job. I’ll finally be able to buy my family what it needs and finally fix the roof. And the door kicked in by the cops.
My greatest enemy is racism. It threatens every day. Not just me, it harangues my entire family. I don’t [help from] a social welfare office. I want to help myself now, without assistance. After all I survived 18 years of concentrated racism.
I also don’t want to go to a military (skills) training program. Now they remember, just to get me to go and die in the army? And besides, why don’t they make programs for fixing the roof instead of encouraging me to join the army through a special program for Ethiopians?
And if I die, who will defend my parents and my brothers? No. I feel it is my duty to stay home, or in jail, it really doesn’t matter. I will dedicate my struggle to fighting for my home. My own home, my brothers and my parents, because we’ve been at war for many years.
Am I selfish? No way, if I was, I would have joined, but then I might die in the army. And if I die, there won’t be anyone to fight for my family, and they are suffering from racism a lot.
And If I live through this war – I wonder if they let me light a torch on Independence Day?

Update: Here’s one example of discrimination faced by young Ethiopian Jews in Israel. According to Yisrael Hayom, last year only 0.17 percent (!!) of the student body at Hebrew University were Ethiopian (40 out of 23,000). Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva has 56 out of 18,000, and statistics elsewhere are as grim. The lead belongs to Haifa University with 146 students out of 18,000 – just under 1 percent. All in all, only 2,198 students out of Israel’s 196,000 are Ethiopians – and that’s including the less prestigious private colleges. (h/t Itamar Taharlev)

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    1. Thomas

      Shame he didn’t address the fact that he would be serving in an occupation force, repressing others in a worse situation he is in.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Stacie

      excellent point Thomas

      Reply to Comment
    3. shanashabz

      Dimi: I’d like to use the opportunity to underscore this channel’s comments policy, which elaborates on the general +972 code of conduct (http://972mag.com/about/). Rule no.1: Comments calling for ethnic cleansing and/or obliteration of either nation, as well as racist taunts (such as calling an entire nation racist) will not be tolerated. I’m leaving this one up only as an example.

      Reply to Comment
    4. max

      I agree that Israel’s handling of the Ethiopian Jews is shameful.
      I’d also bet a lot that this letter is not genuine.
      As for the Bedouins, this is a hard call, as other countries grappling with similar problems (be it Bedouins or Roma/Gypsies), don’t seem to be doing much better. It’s a sad clash of cultures exacerbated by an ethnic tension.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Dimi Reider

      Could you elaborate on why you think the letter isn’t genuine?

      Reply to Comment
    6. max

      A hunch, based on life and experience with the domain. It’s too manipulative to have been written by the purported character of an 18 years old youth

      Reply to Comment
    7. Shoded Yam

      Once again begging the question; Why would a seemingly rational individual willingly defend the interests of a state, that while doing so, that very state is busy undermining his interests and that of his family? Leaving that aside for the moment, why should an ethiopian serve the needs of a white-askenazic power structure, while the majority of the overly pious, racist, mysogynistic talmud-thumping trash of that power structure, (with the collusion of the state), blatantly and consistently weasel out of such service?

      Reply to Comment
    8. Shoded Yam

      “…It’s too manipulative to have been written by the purported character of an 18 years old youth”

      Hmmm. I see your point. Pretty much in the same way that your cyber-persona presents itself as a contrivance for the purposes of hasbara.

      Reply to Comment
    9. max

      Shoded yam, it’s always a pleasure to read your clearly formulated sarcasm! Unfortunately, I stopped expecting more fact based discussions

      Reply to Comment
    10. Shoded Yam

      “…Unfortunately, I stopped expecting more fact based discussions”
      You have to give some to get some. So far all I’ve seen from you are self-serving attacks delivered in a polemical and solipcistic style, trying desperately to present themselves as “facts”, along with the attendant links to various sources (most of which, while on the face of it seem plausible, but in reality happen to be predjudicial, emanating from the crackpot corner of the internet) in order to project an air of credibilty. While you like to offer yourself up as some sort of spokesman for the collective, defender of the realm and protector of the faith, and while I’ll admit your technique is slick, no educated person over the age of 12 is buying into this bullshit. Much like your “facts”, your motives are disingenuous. Maybe if you put the sock on the other hand it might help 😀

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ben Israel

      Presumably the point of this piece of “progressie” propaganda is that Ethiopians are deliberately kept out of the colleges because of the supposed terrible racist nature of Israeli society (forgetting, of course, that is the colleges and univesities that are in the forefront of “anti-racist” Far Left/Progressive thought in Israel). But since “972” is always attempting to point out that Israel is also viciously racist towards the Arabs, then how can you explain that there are supposedly more “inferior” Arabs in the colleges and universities than Jewish Ethiopians?
      This article is yet another example of the ongoing deterioration of Jewish Left/Progressive propaganda. Shame on you.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Dimi Reider

      Really, Ben Israel, I thought you were capable of distinguishing a few more shades of grey. There’s racist (and other kinds of) discrimination between all groups in Israeli society, and yes, in some areas Ethiopians have it “even” worse than Israeli Palestinians – which is not to say the latter are having it nice and dandy.
      See how easily this “contradiction” can be explained?
      Now try addressing the issues raised by the post, or offering an alternative explanation of why Ethiopians are having it so rough here if it’s not because of racism.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Ben Israel

      I am not a sociologist, I only know what I see with my own eyes. I see a LOT of young Ethiopians in good units of the IDF. I work at an Israeli government company and we have a significant and growing number of Ethiopians, including an increasing number in highly technical positions.
      I see large number of young Ethiopians working in modern stores and supermarkets. Of course, these are low-paying jobs but they are flexible and will allow these kids to get an education and move up in society. In the bad old socialist days in Israel, people like this were given dead-end jobs in low-tech factories (e.g. textiles) in development towns which ended up going belly-up after a short time, leaving the workers unemployed in slums with no future. The current situation is a VAST improvement.
      You know very well that there going to be problems when a large number of immigrants from and undeveloped country are brought in a short time to an advanced country. Ethiopian Jews have it a lot better than Muslims in France do. I do NOT accept your endless accusations that Israel is a very racist society. The progaganda line of the Jewish Far Left/”progressives” is to endless bad-mouth Israel, including telling falsehoods, all for political profit. It won’t work.

      Reply to Comment
    14. RichardNYC

      “All in all, only 2,198 students out of Israel’s 196,000 are Ethiopians”

      ok…well according to Wikipedia, Ethiopian Jews are 1.75% of the population…and about 1.12% of college students according to these numbers above. They’re under-represented by about 1/3. Compare that to the rate of black college enrollment in the US.

      “The story of the Ethiopian community in Israel is one of the most profoundly shameful chapters in the history of the state”

      You’ll have to explain that to all the Ethiopian Jews who protested to have the rest of their community brought to Israel.

      really 972, you guys try a little too hard to find gloom and doom in everything Israeli, drawing the worst possible inferences from anecdotes and inconclusive data.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Mitchell Cohen

      Indeed, there is some racism involved, but I don’t think that is the whole story. Ethiopians are also weak in numbers (196,000 according to the above article). If they had more clout in numbers (like the Jews of Sephardic origin, who were also discriminated against for quite a while) their would be less discrimination against them. Also, they did come from an undeveloped country to a modern country and had a lot to make up for (many had never even seen running water or flushed a toilet before). I don’t think it is “racist” to say this, but pretending this discrepancy did not exist only makes it worse. To be sure, the Ethiopians are motivated and have come a long way, but are still swimming uphill. Some of it is blatant racism, some of it is their weak representation in number and representation (if only they had a Nathan Sharansky, Avigdor Lieberman, etc. to represent them), and some of it has to do with gaps that need to be closed. The only current solution seems to be groups advocating on their behalf.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Iraqi Descent

      Ben Israel as the decedent of Iraqi immigrants I can tell you for a fact that Israel is a very racist society. I only have to listen to the stories of my grandparents and their siblings; doused for lice, castigated for speaking Arabic, and children being forcibly removed from the family under pretenses that my great-grandmother couldn’t possibly raise 8 children!

      Now Iraqis are the new Ashknasim and intermarriage has made my community even more acceptable but the fact is that when my Ashknasi friends scorn someone as being as frecha or arse they always invariably have darker features. Sometimes I think to myself that to them all Mizrachim are arsim and frechaot. But there’s nothing I can do about their latent racism which is so obvious in this society.

      Tell me Ben Israel, do you have any Arab friends? I have none. 1 in 5 Israelis is an Arab and I don’t know a single one on a personal basis. I don’t know any Ethiopians either.

      Reply to Comment
    17. max

      I think that Israelis are as “racist” (in the broader sense) as any other nation. As witnessed by Ben, corroborated by Richard’s numbers and maybe explained by Mitchell, the problem is being tackled and the results seem to be positive.
      However, I find Dimi’s work of keeping the awareness alive very important, though I question the specific incident.
      In the overall balance of resources, I think that Israel’s response to the problem is not adequate, often leading to the impression that past the big effort of bringing them over, the society decided that its job is done.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Ben Israel; Mitchell et al.

      Who you think you are to tell me that there is no racist policy against Ethiopians?

      And what you mean by this? “The only current solution seems to be groups advocating on their behalf.”

      Ethiopian Jews came to Israel in the 1960s, and we talking about Israeli – who are more then 30 years in Israel and they Ethiopian but they were born in Israel?

      This sentence: “You know very well that there going to be problems when a large number of immigrants from and undeveloped country are brought in a short time to an advanced country” –

      Is just as the same rhetoric way that Jews have suffer from the Nazi propaganda

      YES, we will prosper against your will, since we are more then what you think about us – if you can read Hebrew come and read the way your dream is going to end!

      You are speaking on cultural gaps – Was it that gap that caused the fascist European died in hundreds in Da’ro Soloda Adewa? Since the Ethiopian were not “modern” – history is repeating itself here.

      Ethiopian does not need you to speak on behalf – we just need no racist policy! We want the same justice like all ppl in the state. We do not want you to treat us like an object – if you will continue with this – hell will be you future.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Ras Alula Aba Nega

      I do not agree with Hertzog’s final conclusions but she find the same fact, that we as Ethiopians feel it in everyday experince, for us is way of life – for us is racist way – to treat us deffernt from the rest ppl not to give us access to to good scools, heals cares and provide us fasicts policies.

      You can read it:

      “the Ethiopian immigrants were not sent collectively to segregated absorption centers because of racism, but rather because this served the interests and needs of the absorbing agencies. They used cultural and welfare discourses to justify this policy. The racist outcomes, such as discriminating immigrants in the labor market, were not intended by the ‘absorbers’. Separating Ethiopian children from veteran children did not take place as a result of racial policy, but rather as a means of getting hold over public budgets, positions, etc. Cultural differentials served to justify the separation. It was not racism that generated the medical check-ups and treatment of the immigrants. The budgets allocated for research and treatment, which were granted to individuals and organizations involved in treating the Ethiopians, were behind the ‘special treatment’. ‘African diseases’ were the means to justify the collectivized-separating practices, which served various interests of the medical milieu. Discrimination and racism were the outcomes. I suggest, therefore, analyzing immigration policies in Israel in terms of power relations and state patronage, rather than racism”

      Prof Ester Hertzog;
      “The Role of Diseases in Constructing Bureaucratic Patronage over Ethiopian Immigrants in Israel”, 2010

      Reply to Comment
    20. Ras Alula Aba Nega

      These kids we’ll cick you Nazi propogands!


      What do you kone on Ethiopian? From where you bring your knowledge on Ethiopian Jews or Ethiopia – the problem is that fact is not what you whish – you want to control – and WE – are contorable!

      Reply to Comment
    21. max

      Ras Alula Aba Nega, reading your comments leads me to think that your suffering caused you to forget history (there were approx. 200 Ethiopian Jews in Israel till the early ’70s) and civilized discourse (comparing the Israeli government’s handling to Nazis).
      You’re dishonoring your Nom de guerre

      Reply to Comment
    22. Shoded Yam

      “…As witnessed by Ben, corroborated by Richard’s numbers and maybe explained by Mitchell, the problem is being tackled and the results seem to be positive.”
      While I hate to interrupt you guys while you’re giving each other congratulatory hand-jobs, and since I have a few spare moments to waste in order to lambast internet dipshits, I’m sure you’ll allow me one or two salient points.
      #1. It would appear that your hubris is predicated upon the belief that no one is gonna call you on your shit. I’m here to disabuse of that absurd notion.
      #2. Your anecedotes are not evidence of anything except your desperate need to validate and rationalize your bigotry. You would think that such desperation would inspire greater efforts to produce a fact, (an actual fact, not someones half-assed observation) that would support your arguments. Apparently not.
      #3. Comments such as; “… I find Dimi’s work of keeping the awareness alive very important, though I question the specific incident.”,
      while seemingly evenhanded are a cynical attempt of an agenda that seeks to soften its edges inorder to gain favor with an audience that while once was solidly sitting in Israels corner, is now sitting on the fence, precisely because of the overt racism that has become the face of Israel. You’re in trouble Max. Despite the accolades, I’m not a rocket scientist. If I get it, others do as well. Now you’re just embarassing yourself. Don’t quit your day job just yet.
      “..Organizations working for the advancement of rights of Ethiopians in Israel have been receiving hundreds of complaints each year concerning discriminatory and racist attitudes towards members of the minority ethnicity in Israel.”
      “…The facts seem to show that these attitudes are not confined to specific areas of the country but rather represent a collective phenomenon within Israeli society.”
      “…In another instance, in a kindergarten in southern Israel Ethiopian children were removed from the school after other children’s parents protested that there were too many of them. In coming days, a lawsuit is to be filed against the mayor of the city”
      “…Even FIDEL, which dubs itself the “Association for Education and Social Integration of Ethiopian Jews in Israel,” encountered difficulties when it was searching for an office in the center of the country.”
      “…Attorney Yael Segel-Maklis, manager of the judicial affairs department at Tebeka, told Ynet that “there is a fundamental problem of illegitimacy with regard to Ethiopian immigrants. Israeli society is shooting itself in the foot because it has caused a frustrated generation (of Ethiopians) to grow up here, and we’re seeing all of the severe consequences of this.”
      “…Avi Maspin, a spokesman for IAEJ, said that “racism is a word that I have feared using until now, because I did not believe that it could exist in Israel in 2007, but the time has come to call a spade a spade. Israeli society is profoundly infected by racism and unfortunately there is no suitable punishment for racism in Israel.”
      “…’Ethiopian tenants? Out of the question’
      Real estate agent trying to find apartment in Ashkelon for new immigrants shocked to discover building has policy of not selling flats to Ethiopians, ‘because it drops the apartments’ value.’ Deputy mayor: Unfortunately, I’ve encountered this problem many times
      Shmulik Hadad Published: 02.13.09, 09:06 / Israel News
      Sorry Max. You walked onto the lot. You kicked the tires and took it for a test drive. You said you liked how it felt and you paid cash. Well, when you buy into the orthodox worldview, you buy the whole nine yards. The racism, the misogyny, dealing in human organs, child molestation and all the rest of it. What? There are problems with your purchase? I’m sorry. I’m afraid theres very little we can do since you’ve already put 100,000 miles on the thing and the warantee has expired. If others percieve your driving a pos, its your own damm fault. You’re on your own.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Reuven Ben David

      I first like to point out that I agree with quite a few points you make, however, a couple of notes:
      “police break the door down”: really? that doesn’t happen. i’m quite involved with the Ethiopian community and those are not the stories I hear. there are enough problems in the community, no need to add fictional ones that will probably end up distracting from real problems.
      racism – I’ve been giving that particular subject a lot of thought in recent time and I can see no country that has no racism.
      the Japanese still look at foriegners with suspicion, not to mention if those foreigners happen to be of color. Australians still call the Aboriginies “darkies” (!). Latin Americans still hate “Gringos”, but the darker your skin is, the worst off you are. Arab states impose very demeaning limitations on women and non-muslims.
      my point is that people like to divide themselves into groups and then to claim that their group is somehow better than the other, this is very similar to the interactions inside and between groups in the animal world (which we are still a part of). I’m not saying racism is somehow good, but let’s not make Israel the sole example of it.
      I still love and believe in us and despite several opportunities to leave, I’ve chosen to stay because we can really do some good here, if we don’t destroy ourselves first.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Ben Israel

      It is important to understand that the purpose of this piece, and many, if not most of the pieces at Jewish Leftist/”Progressives” sites like this one is not merely to point out supposed “racism” in Israeli society, but to denounce Zionism (i.e. Jewish nationalism) itself. In other words, the writers are claiming that Israel is inherently a “racist” society (a claim I strongly disagree with, while acknowledging that there are racist Jews, just as there are racist Palestinians, Egyptians, Englishmen, Americans, Frenchmen, Bangladeshis, etc, etc) but that it can not purge itself from this supposed “racism” until it gets rid of its Zionist ethos. This is yet another manifestation of the “purification” ideology that Prof Ernest Sternberg described so well in this article (link here:)


      Stergberg’s point is that no less that the purification of the entire world, of all of humanity, is dependent on the Jewish “progressives”, allied with various Red, Green and Brown political movements around the world, getting the rest of the Jews (the large majority) to jettison Zionism. Thus, articles of this type are written, which either stretch the truth or ignore it completely, in order to get the political mobilization necessary for the struggle. I trust the basic common sense of readers to see through this.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Ras Alula Aba Nega

      Dear Max,

      I think you we better not to speak history and try to understand if Israel have racisit policy against Ethiopian Jews or not.

      I do not know if you know, but Ethiopian Jews tried to reach Jerusalem in 1800s, before east European Jews immigrated to Palestine – to an Arab village called Jauni (now Rosh Pina) north of Israel today.

      The well known journey was at 1862 – Abba Mahari, one of Beta-Israel leader lead thousand of Jews from Gondar region and lead them to north Ethiopia, in order to reach Jerusalem – However, they reached to Tigray and Eritrea – many of them died in these areas – from disease and from the cause of the hard journey.

      So- you right, racism against Ethiopian Jews isn’t new, it was from the beginning – Israel block Ethiopian Jews way to Israel after 1948 from racist reasons. But its policy also cause to the Ethiopian more then 4000 children, woman, and old man, to perish in Sudan – and it was since Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres, now the president of Israel, intentionally spoke in the media on the Aliya of the Jews of Ethiopia.

      When we will write the history it will bring only shame to Israel, since now historian and anthropologists only serving the ideology of the state.

      What kind of argument is that other countries are also racist – what kind of moral is this? Evil is evil! What we will answer if one will say that holocaust in Europe had happened in Armenia as well, and therefore we should not need to learn about evil deed in nations or act against such kind of actions?

      So, what you guys have to say regarding the birth control against Ethiopian Jews in Israel. At the same time you can answer regarding the racist action against Arabs citizens and Palestinian and asylums seekers as well. We all need to think why Israel mad racism modus Vivendi?

      It is good to learn from history but not in order to use it as solution to racism, we can try moral philosophy – till then – we all need to condemn and fight against racist deeds in everywhere.

      Reply to Comment
    26. Mitchell Cohen

      Ras Alula Aba Nega, I FULLY acknowledged there was racism involved. You might want to read my WHOLE post before jumping on me.

      Reply to Comment
    27. Ras Alula Aba Nega

      regardind the police,
      since the 1980s we have long history with them.Since then they allready have killed with out trail at leat 5 ethiopian – the first on was in the begining of 1980 – an ethiopian new immigrant had fhiht with his wife and morder or ingured a whitedoorman of the absorptin center and run to the desert – in Arad – police Helicopter came in from the air they killed him without trail!

      there are more cases but they underground, since midia – we all know how they work – they just a tool by the state.

      again – when we will write all these evil deeds I am sure the true face of Israel wiil appear. Now Israel are using ethioian in order to tell the world that she is not racist country – since have balck people – but underground Israel is controling their mind and treat the like they where no human – an Ethiopian shell rise again and wiil fight agains racism!

      Reply to Comment
    28. Ras Alula Aba Nega

      I wish I could knew to use a propre english to expres myself like I do in Hebrew, Tigrinya and Amharic – come and read our site YES- there you will find the true world of the ethiopian Jews exprienc. Come and meet us with the langege we know – then, we will guide you to our dayly life of the Ethiopians in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    29. Ras Alula Aba Nega

      Mitchell Cohen;

      I have no problem with you, but the way you say that Ethiopian are the problem since they are not modern – hi, we are allredy 30 years in Israel we speaking on Israeli ethiopian who do not even to spaek or nkow their past – and our perent deed everything to give us all they have and they are working in low job for that reson – my parenst did not have single vocatin – thay are working from 1980 – and I know they never were strong to have all the social that in law they save – all the companies rae use Ethiopian enrjy – and now – we wiil fight for their dignity – at leat to write it and to bring our pain in order taht all in the world will know it – this is the mission of the young ethioian in Israel. For you our parents are primtive, for us, they have lead us in the long juorney we had to Sudan in order to reach Israel – wfight like they deed in the 1908s. Now you can read history – You can read the work of Jan Abbink 1984 – the problem of the new comers of that time.

      Reply to Comment
    30. Dannecker

      Now that conditions have improved in Ethiopia, perhaps the Ethiopian “Jews” need to return there and stop occupying Palestinian land

      Reply to Comment
    31. max

      Dannecker, another expert on The Jewish Question…

      Reply to Comment
    32. This comment has been deleted

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    33. Borg

      does anyone care to comment on Danneckers point? If this conscript hates Israel so much, perhaps he would be happier in Ethiopia? I dont normally agree with the anti-semitic Dannecker but perhaps he is right here

      Reply to Comment
    34. Vered Raz

      First, I have to admit that I am very new to this site, but am quite heartened by its existence. I am not interested in arguing with any of the above commentators. Just wanted to respond with a thought:

      Ten years ago I was attempting to write a thesis on the “Black Panterim” of Israel (circa 1970)…basically because I was struggling with my own internal conflict (proud of being an Israeli-American daughter of Holocaust survivors/partisans vs. shame and anger at the racist policies of my two home countries). I thought that if I could investigate the racism within the Jewish populations and power structures of Israel, I could understand and explain the contemporary Israel-Palestine conflicts. I never did finish the thesis — but did end up learning a lot in the process…

      What is most interesting to me about this young man’s pleading, moving letter is how he recognizes the false promise within what Dimi Reider called “the first step on the scale of social mobility.”

      The American Black Panthers similarly – according to their 10 point-plan – refused to serve in the U.S. Army (during the Vietnam War). Meanwhile the Mizrachi Black Panterim demanded to BE ALLOWED to participate in the IDF precisely because at that time they felt that not doing so prevented them the opportunity for social mobility or even full-class citizenship.
      I’m not casting aspersions: it was understandable that the Mizrachi Panterim would crave particpation, recognition, civil rights…it’s just great to read a letter where a young Ethiopian is moving beyond Nationalism to make the case not just for civil rights, but for HUMAN RIGHTS!

      Reply to Comment
    35. Leonid Levin

      Thanks a lot for bringing to our attention the plight of Ethiopian Israelis. I was touched by this letter and by the story of these people, of whom I, to my shame, know very little. The young man is asking good questions. If he dies in the army, who is going to take care of his family? Most of the commentors here have ignored this question, which is of paramount importance to this boy. Is it worth dying for a country in which one feels discriminated, let down, looked down upon, but which on the other hand is one’s home? Some will fight voluntarily to prove that they are not worse and even better than the rest, others will fight reluctantly out of a sense of duty or conformity, still others will try to avoid fighting at all costs, and some very few ones will refuse openly.
      My grandfather Aron was drafted into the Red Army as a private in 1941 and killed in action in 1942. He must have been facing the same sort of questions. His father used to own a shop in a small shtettl in Belarus and because of that was deprived by the Soviets of voting rights (so called lishenets), his children (including my granddad) being denied higher education, etc. My granddad left 3 small children, one of whom died of typhus during the war. Unfortunately, I don’t know what he was thinking. The letters from the front were censured, so he could only write that the Soviets were going to be victorious and tell his wife and sisters to take good care of themselves and the kids behind the front lines in the Urals. He couldn’t possibly know that his father, mother, brother and sister and their entire families had already been murdered by the Nazis. Yes, he fought against the Germans to protect his family, but he also fought for the Soviets, who discriminated against and brought much grief to his family. And who took care of his family? The family has had to largely rely on themselves and relatives.
      Some here have questioned the authenticity of this letter, others have accused the author of ideological bias and have tried to downplay the problem, and still others have rationalized by saying that this phenomenon is common to all societies. Some have even implied that it’s a shame the guy is not concerned with the plight of Palestinians.
      My take on this is that we need to see people not just as representatives of a certain ethnicity, race, religion or culture, but first and foremost as human beings who have the same basic needs as we all do, namely food, shelter, security, respect, understanding, etc. We need to rid ourselves of prejudice and see people for what they truly are: each as a unique individual with a unique combination of talents, character traits, difficulties, problems and creativity.
      I truly hope that the young gentleman will find positive solutions to his dilemmas, that he will find meaning in helping his family, his people and all those oppressed, downtrodden and meek.
      Stay human!

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    36. my heart goes out to you my brother! I just cannot believe you face so much hardship aboard, it sounds serial and unheard of may God walk with you this hard journey of life, the best place for anyone of us is to be in ethiopia.

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