When Is a Jew Not a Jew?

When is a Jew not a Jew? Apparently, when she’s a Black, Ethopian Jew, or Falasha. Originally, “Falasha” was a derogatory term — meaning “sojourner” in Amharic, an ancient language related to Hebrew — but adopted by the Jews who settled in what is now Ethiopia in ancient times. These people now generally refer to themselves as Beta Israel, or “Community of Israel.”Drawing of a Falasha, a Black, Ethopian Jew, with an Israeli flagIn 1950, shortly after the foundation of the modern State of Israel in 1948 the Israeli Knesset, or Parliament, passed the so-called “Law of Return” which made it simple for any Jew to emigrate to Israeli and declared that such immigrants would be granted Israeli citizenship. There were many reasons for this law, not the least of which was that it was promised in the Zionist’s Credo back in the 1920s, around the time that the League of Nations declared that the Jewish people should have an established homeland.

This law was extended many times to various groups of people who thought of themselves as Jews but were not considered Jews under strict Rabbinic law.  Children of Jewish fathers, for example, whose mothers were not Jewish, were eventually included in the terms of the law. In 1977, after decades of controversy and racism, Ethiopian Jews were finally allowed to invoke the Right of Return.

Recently, however, Israeli investigative journalist, Gal Gabbay, began looking into reports that birth rates in the Israeli Falasha community were surprisingly low, at which point he discovered that Israeli immigration control officers, both in Ethiopia and in Israel, had been giving Falasha women injections of a long-lasting birth-control drug, probably Depo-Provera or equivalent, without either informing the women nor obtaining their consent.

It is currently being reported that the Israeli government has just ordered this practice stopped, but what does the practice, itself, tell us about racism in Israel? It tells us that racism is thriving in Israel just as it thrives all over the world — despite the uncomfortable fact that Israel’s very founding was due to one of the worst expressions of racism that the world has ever known.

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Art-itorial by Barbara Broido. Visit Barbara’s Doodle Blog for more of her art, design work and socio-political commentary.