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The Plight of Ethiopian Jews in Israel Facing Discrimination and Racism from the Israeli Establishment

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The story of the immigration and absorption of Ethiopian Jews in Israel epitomises the best and the worst of Israeli society, MENA FN reports. True to its Zionist dream of being a haven for Jews, the Jewish state embarked on risky and expensive rescue operations in the 1980s and 1990s. These brought tens of thousands of Jews from remote parts of Ethiopia, who had suffered from religious persecution, famine and civil wars. Yet, when they arrived in Israel, these distinctive people faced appalling discrimination, racism and a lack of empathy for their hardships in Ethiopia and during their journey to Israel. Moreover, this was exacerbated by a mixture of bureaucratic insensitivity and incompetence.

The uncharacteristic violence, seen recently during demonstrations by members of the Ethiopian community in Israel, was a direct result of years of accumulated frustration against the state and especially the police. The unprovoked beating up by policemen of Demas Fekadeh, an Ethiopian Israeli soldier in uniform, could well serve as a much necessary wake-up call for Israeli society to change, quickly and radically, its treatment of the 130,000 Israeli citizens and their descendants who immigrated from Ethiopia.

Who are the Ethiopian Jews? The main challenge in tracing the origins of a Jewish presence in Ethiopia is the lack of reliable accounts. Consequently there are several versions regarding the origins of the Ethiopian Jews or, as they are historically known, Beta Israel (House of Israel). One school of thought claims that Ethiopian Jews are descendants of the lost Hebrew Dan tribe. An alternative explanation asserts that the Beta Israel community may be the descendants of the entourage that accompanied Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. Finally, leaders from within the community argue that Ethiopian Jews are descendants of Jews who left the conquered Kingdom of Judah for Egypt following the destruction of the First Temple in 586BC.

For centuries, until the 20th Century, Ethiopian Jews were completely isolated from Jewish communities in other parts of the world. Yet, they adhered to biblical Judaism for many centuries. How did they arrive in Israel? It was Prime Minister Menachem Begin, after he came to power in 1977, who first opened the country to Ethiopian Jews. It was in response to the threat to the community from famine, political unrest and the hostility of the self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist regime led by Col Mengistu Haile Mariam. Initially the Israeli secret service Mossad organised their immigration through refugee camps in Sudan. This resulted in the arrival of about 7,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel.

In later years, Israeli security services embarked on even more daring operations, code-named Operation Moses (1984-1985) and Operation Solomon (1991), which rescued a further 20,000 Jews. With the end of Mengistu’s regime it became easier for Jews to emigrate from Ethiopia and, by the end of the 1990s, about 90,000 of the Beta Israel community had arrived in Israel.

What are the root causes of tensions? Only 30 years after the arrival of the first Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and following recent violent clashes with the police, there is a broad acknowledgement that the state failed appallingly in absorbing the Jewish Ethiopian community. To begin with, there was a lack of empathy in Israeli society for the hardships involved in leaving behind homes, relatives and friends who could not make the journey; not to mention the loss of family members and friends on the hazardous journey. Upon their arrival in the Jewish state they met the inherent Israeli paradoxes involved in absorbing Jewish immigrants. They were welcomed and granted the basic needs of accommodation, healthcare, education and general welfare. However, this was done without sensitivity to their specific conditions and from the outset they faced discrimination and racism from the Israeli establishment. Many in the religious establishment even dared to question their Judaism.

One of the early incidents that exposed this approach was the revelation in the 1990s that the Israeli national blood bank had routinely destroyed blood donated by Ethiopian Israelis for fear of HIV. It sent a message of exclusion from the rest of the Israeli society. The failure to absorb the Ethiopian Jews is the failure to fully and genuinely integrate them into Israeli society. For instance, while Ethiopian Israeli schoolchildren comprise only 2% of Israeli pupils, most of them study at schools that are predominantly Ethiopian. Worse still, their attainment in school is much poorer than the general population, which blocks their path to academic success.

Many of the Ethiopian Israelis live in the periphery of society that already grapples with issues of unemployment and scarce public resources. This makes it more difficult for them to integrate and causes friction with the more veteran population. Ethiopian Jews suffer from the highest poverty rate among the Jews in Israel, and suffer much higher levels of police stop-search, arrests and incarceration. It was the cycle of discrimination, racism, poverty, hopelessness and higher levels of law breaking that led to the recent clashes in the streets of Israeli cities, between Ethiopian Israelis and the police. This challenges Israel to look in the mirror and correct the way it treats a vulnerable segment of the population within its own society.

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Iran Blocks Nearly All Internet Access

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Iran imposed an almost complete nationwide internet blackout on Sunday one of its most draconian attempts to cut off Iranians from each other and the rest of the world as widespread anti-government unrest roiled the streets of Tehran and other cities for a third day, The New York Times reported.

The death toll for the three days of protests rose to at least 12; hundreds were injured; and more than 1,000 people have been arrested, according to semiofficial news agencies like Fars News.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on all state matters, called the demonstrators “thugs” and endorsed the government’s decision to raise prices it sets for rationed gasoline by 50 percent as of Friday and by 300 percent for gasoline that exceeds ration limits. Even after the price hike, gasoline in Iran is still cheaper than in most of the rest of the world – now the equivalent of about 50 cents a gallon.

In a speech on Sunday, Khamenei said he would support rationing and increasing gas prices because heads of three branches of government had made the decision.

Khamenei also acknowledged that Iranians had taken to the streets to protest and that some had died – however, he blamed the protests on monarchists and opposition groups trying to destabilize Iran, the Times added.

The widespread discontent on display across the country marked yet another crisis for the country. Iran has been struggling with an economic crisis after the United States exited a nuclear deal and reimposed harsh sanctions that ban Iran’s oil sales.

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HASC Chairman Claims Legislation to Create a Space Force in 2020 ‘Still Possible’

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House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said last week that negotiations on the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act are “proceeding reasonably well” but he expressed doubt that the NDAA will include language to authorize a Space Force as a separate military branch, SpaceNews reported.

“It’s still possible but by no means guaranteed,” Smith told reporters on Capitol Hill last week. When asked for specifics, Smith said, “I don’t think it would be helpful for me to make predictions.”

The biggest sticking point in the NDAA negotiations is language in the House version of the bill that restricts the use of military funds to pay for the wall that President Trump wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border, SpaceNews adds.

There are other dealbreaker issues. The authorization of a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces is one of them, Smith said. Other contentious matters include extending the “war powers” legislation that authorizes the president to use military force, and allowing transgender people to serve in the military.

Smith said the House and Senate NDAA conference in recent weeks worked on compromise language on hundreds of provisions and “reduced the stack significantly, and we’re down to a few really contentious issues.”

Smith characterized the Space Force as a “higher echelon” issue that is proving divisive. Both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate continue to have reservations about the administration’s Space Force proposal, said Smith. “There is bipartisan concern on the proposal and bicameral concern about the specifics of that proposal.”

The House version of the NDAA creates a Space Corps and is closer aligned with what the administration proposed. The Senate bill would rename the Air Force Space Command the U.S. Space Force and does not specifically authorize a sixth branch of the armed forces.

Smith noted that the House has been a proponent of a military space branch since 2017 while the Senate had adamantly opposed it. “In their bill they didn’t have the same language that we did. But the president has persuaded them to look at it differently.”

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Gunman Kills Four at California Backyard Party

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Police in the California city of Fresno were investigating a mass shooting at a football game party on Sunday in which at least 10 people were shot, killing four, with five others left in critical condition and another wounded, Reuters informs.

Three men died at the scene and another died at a hospital, Fresno Deputy Police Chief Michael Reed said in a late night news conference. Six more were hospitalized, he said.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this thing,” Reed said. “This was senseless violence. We’re going to do everything we can to find out who the perpetrators were and bring them to justice.”

A gunman walked into a backyard and started shooting at a south Fresno home, where a gathering of about 35 family and friends was watching a football game before 8 p.m., said Reed. Neighbors soon flooded 911 dispatchers with calls for help, Reuters adds.

The suspect fled the scene and police were combing the neighborhood for witnesses and possible security camera footage, police said. Police did not release further information about the shooting in the city about 200 miles (320 km) north of Los Angeles, except that the dead were men between the ages of 25 and 35.

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