By Danielle Roth-Avner
Deputy Public Security Minister Gadi Yevarkan calls a community dedicated solely to Ethiopian Israeli residents “the fulfillment of a dream.”
The government is examining a proposal to establish a town expressly for immigrants from Ethiopia. If the idea is approved, it could come under criticism as a supposed attempt to separate that immigrant community from the rest of the country’s residents.
The proposal is the brainchild of Deputy Public Security Minister Gadi Yevarkan, himself a member of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, who recently met with Construction and Housing Minister Yakov Litzman. The two agreed on a series of actions to be taken to improve the lot of Ethiopian Israelis.
Yevarkan presented an overview of the community’s housing needs, and also suggested ideas to promote employment initiatives in the community.
The two sides agreed that Yevarkan would compile housing plans that would be submitted to the Construction and Housing Ministry for evaluation by its professional staff. It appears that such a plan might be given a green light and approved for central Israel.
Yevarkan told Israel Hayom, “I’m excited, this is great news. The significance of establishing a town for the Beta [Israel] community is the fulfillment of the dream of our forefathers, going back generations, to build a home in the ancestral land they dreamed of.
“A dedicated town for Ethiopian immigrants in Israel will be founded 40 years too late, but it’s good that it will be founded. This is a small step for the state, but a giant step for the community. I am enormously privileged to be part of this pioneering project,” he said.
Yevarkan expressed his thanks to Litzman for cooperating with his vision.
‘An Ethiopian-only town? Not on my watch’
Ethiopian Israeli MK Gadi Yevarkan’s idea to found a town for Ethiopian-Israelis blasted as “separatist,” with Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata warning it will set the community back “years.” Yevarkan: Non-Ethiopians who want to live there will be welcome.
A report by Israel Hayom on Tuesday that Deputy Public Security Minister Gadi Yevarkan is working with the Housing and Construction Ministry on plans for a new town dedicated to housing members of Israel’s Ethiopian community has sparked controversy, with many opponents of the idea decrying it as racist and separatist.
While Yevarkan told Israel Hayom that a new town for Ethiopian-Israelis would be the “fulfillment of a dream,” many members of the community said it would take them “many steps backward.”
Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, also an immigrant from Ethiopia, said, “The project for an Ethiopian-only town is foolishness, and this thinking will lead to separatism and segregation for Ethiopian immigrants in Israel. It won’t happen on my watch!”
Tamano-Shata said that if Yevarkan supported the idea of an Ethiopian-only community, he should not be trying to fight segregated schools.
“He is actually calling for Ethiopian-Israelis to be separated from the rest of the population,” the aliyah and integration minister said.
In a Facebook post directed at Yevarkan, Tamano-Shata wrote: “You are making a mistake, a big mistake. Our forefathers’ dream was never to build a separate community for Ethiopian Jews in Israel, and certainly not to live in separate communities, but rather to return to Zion and reunite with the rest of the Tribes of Israel.”
“Sadly, there are already neighborhoods that have turned into ‘Ethiopian communities’ … this idea puts the community back years,” Tamano-Shata wrote.
After coming into blistering criticism, Yevarkan told Israel Hayom that he wanted to clarify that “a community of this kind would provide a housing solution for young couples. The town would be founded based on having a majority Ethiopian-Israeli population, and on the heritage and culture of the Beta Israel people and the Jewish people, with the rich cultural life, concern for each other, love for people and the Land of Israel on which we were raised.
“The values that characterize the Beta Israel community can be a model for the rest of Israeli society. There is no better place for these values to flourish than one of empowerment. Anyone who is not Ethiopian-Israeli and wants to be part of the town will be welcome,” Yevarkan said.
Israel Hayom’s daily newsletter