Nine months after the state intervened on behalf of dozens of Ethiopian Israeli children who were refused enrollment in Petach Tikva schools, the battle against segregation in schools is, unfortunately, still ongoing. Israel's Channel 2 revealed that a preschool in Be'er Sheva, which boasts a large Ethiopian community, kept Ethiopian immigrant children separated from their non-Ethiopian peers.
Immediately after the broadcast, a group of young SHATIL-trained Ethiopian Israeli activists began organizing a response. Other Ethiopian organizations joined in and a Forum against Racism was established to confront this and related challenges.
"It's hard to believe this is happening in 21st century Israel, which takes such pride in its ethnic mosaic," said Dvora Dasta, a SHATIL consultant to Ethiopian Israeli organizations in the south, who is helping the activists to organize. "We have to look at the whole issue of racism. Whether in schools, on busses when people don't want to sit next to someone of Ethiopian descent, or in employment offices where counselors suggest certain types of work to Ethiopian Israelis – racism happens daily."
Within days, the Forum - with the help of SHATIL and NIF grantee Tebeka – the Center for Legal Aid and Advocacy for Ethiopian Jews in Israel - organized a demonstration in front of government offices in Be'er Sheva that attracted 200 people and wide media coverage.
Following the demonstration, the activists, accompanied by SHATIL representatives, attended a discussion on the issue in the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee. The Forum also initiated meetings with the mayor of Be'er Sheva and other officials, demanding an end to the segregation at the Otzar Hachayim preschool.
The Forum, which meets in SHATIL's Be'er Sheva office, has a SHATIL consultant advising their strategies and activities. They have decided to tackle the issue of racism in Be'er Sheva and will begin by mapping the situation of the Ethiopian population in the city socially, in schools and in places of employment.
"There is racism in the State of Israel and not just toward Ethiopians," said Dasta. "We have to unite and fight for equality for everyone."