Ethiopian community pushes for better representation in politics

Ethiopian-Israeli spiritual leaders at a conference

Spiritual leaders from the Ethiopian community recently met with the leaders of various parties, including Kulanu, to petition for a representative in a realistic spot on the party tickets ahead of the upcoming general elections.

Israel Hayom has learned that Ethiopian-Israeli kesim (religious leaders) proposed a deal to several parties offering the Ethiopian vote in exchange for a candidate faithful to the community’s principles.

The proposed deal is particularly enticing because kesim hold considerable sway among the Ethiopian community, which comprises nearly 150,000 people.

The meetings were convened because of disappointment over some of the community’s elected officials in the Knesset, and the desire to strengthen the community’s influence with decision makers.

The religious leaders also suggested several potential candidates, among them former MK Addisu Messele and media figure Inno Farda Sanbato.

“We are always running up against [cases of] racism against members of the community. Even though we are already 30 years in Israel we don’t receive enough recognition, and this is what we want to change,” said kes Avihu Azaria, a prominent spiritual leader in the Ethiopian community.

“The time has come for actions. The community’s spiritual leaders decided to put a worthy individual in the Knesset, to fight for our rights to equality. The current MKs fight, but it’s not enough – there’s a need for the Ethiopian community and the spiritual leadership to be represented,” he said. “We won’t give away our votes [anymore] – we’ve seen who cares about us and who doesn’t. We are offering our votes for a realistic slot on a ticket.”

One motivating factor for the proposal is that in the eyes of some in the Ethiopian community, MK Avraham Neguise (Likud) has failed to represent them, among other reasons because of his efforts to bring members of Ethiopia’s Falash Mura community to Israel. “Falash Mura” is the name given to Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity under pressure and persecution in the 19th and 20th centuries and their descendants.

With that, kes Azaria stressed he was not working against any particular MK. It should be noted that MK Penina Tamanu (Yesh Atid) is widely supported in the Ethiopian community.

The Kulanu party said in a statement: “The Kulanu party is color blind in all that we do. … The party is a mosaic of Israeli society. When we implement our initiatives … we don’t distinguish between people from one ethnic background or another.”