How symbolic that in the same week that we commemorated the twentieth anniversary of Menachem Begin’s death, Israel’s foreign service appointed its first Ethiopian-born ambassador. It brings to mind the immortal words of our sixth prime minister, who told the head of the Mossad in the late 1970s “bring me the Jews of Ethiopia.”
Thus, Belaynesh Zevadia, our new ambassador to Ethiopia, has gained the right to come full circle both personally and nationally, arriving in the land of her birth as the representative of her historical homeland.
Zevadia is not an outside appointment but someone who rose up through the ranks of Israel’s foreign service. Her educational attainments include a Bachelor’s degree in international relations and African studies, and a Master’s degree in anthropology, from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She also brings considerable diplomatic experience to the job. In the past, she served as Israel’s consul to Chicago and as Deputy Consul-General to the southwestern U.S.
On the one hand, her appointment is very satisfying. The story of Zevadia’s immigration to Israel and her integration into Israeli society can serve as an example of the magnificent story of the Operation Moses immigrants, who scaled untold obstacles to come to Israel, and fully integrated into their new home. On the other hand, the absorption of Ethiopian immigrants is not yet complete, and from this perspective, Zevadia is the exception and not the rule.
Worse still, many Ethiopian immigrants feel excluded from Israeli society -- a feeling that is understandable the more we hear shocking accounts of racism. These symptoms of racism derive not from evil but ignorance, and from the fact that the lessons of the past have not yet been fully learned.
In any event, Zevadia’s appointment conveys an important message to Israeli society. Despite past mistakes, and mistakes we will make in the future, we must make tremendous efforts to integrate the Ethiopian community into Israeli society. And not just them - entire populations among us still feel rejected and excluded: the Arab sector, for example, or the Russian sector, not to mention the ultra-Orthodox.
This is because we are a multicultural society in which the process of acceptance and integration takes time. Sometimes the minorities themselves are at fault for not fighting enough, but it is our role as veteran Israelis to make life easier for them. History ultimately shows that, with great effort, equality can be achieved in Israel -- and there is nothing like the circumstances of second- and third-generation immigrants from Arab countries to prove it. Absorbing immigrants is one of the historical challenges we face. Zevadia’s appointment as ambassador is one step toward meeting this challenge.