After decades of discrimination, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate recognises Ethiopian Jews as Jewish
London, Jan. 20, 2020 (AltAfrica)- After many decades of open and systemic discrimination, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate Council has officially recognised the the Ethiopian Beta Israel community as Jews
The decision by the Chief Rabbinate Council was taken without fanfare in November, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday.
It came over 45 years after then-chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled that members of the Beta Israel community were Jewish, in a groundbreaking decision that paved the way for tens of thousands to be airlifted to Israel.
However, some have continued to question or refuse to recognise members of the Ethiopian Beta Israel community as Jewish, sparking accusations of racism.
In 2018, a kosher winery faced an angry backlash after it emerged that it was not allowing Ethiopian workers to touch the wine because of fears they were not Jewish, which would make the wine not kosher.
Rabbi Yehuda Deri, who had pushed to reinforce Yosef’s ruling, hailed it “a historic decision which will be remembered for generations in Israel, especially among the Ethiopian community,” according to the Haaretz daily.
Deri’s brother Aryeh Deri heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas political party, which was founded by Yosef.
Itim, a religious pluralism rights group, also praised the decision saying in a statement that discrimination against those of Ethiopian descent in recent years had to do with among other things, “the casting of doubt by the religious establishment on their being part of the Jewish people.”
Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, a liberal religious group, also welcomed the development calling it “significant progress by the rabbinate on the way to correcting its attitude with the Jewish of Ethiopian descent.”
About 140,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today, a small minority in a country of nearly 9 million. But their assimilation hasn’t been smooth, with many arriving without a modern education and then falling into unemployment and poverty.
Last summer saw widespread, sometimes violent protests by Ethiopians in Israel after the police killing of an unarmed teen, the latest in series of incidents of racism and police brutality against Ethiopian-Israelis.