President Shimon Peres has condemned what he called the growing phenomenon of
racism in Israel, saying that it is ugly and despicable. On Thursday, following
reports of racist slurs against Israelis of Ethiopian background, Peres visited
the Reishit School in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Menachem neighborhood, where the
student population includes a large number of Ethiopians who are residents of
the Reishit Urban Kibbutz.
The president was eager to hear from the
students – most of whom are native-born Israelis of Ethiopian parentage – what
their reactions were to the most recent outbreaks of racism, that include
refusal by home owners in certain neighborhoods to sell apartments to Ethiopian
Ethiopians protest racism in Kiryat Malachi
Ethiopian activists furious over Landver comments
The Reishit School has an impressive record in the absorption
and integration of Ethiopian students, and Peres was equally interested to know
the secret of its success.
When Emanuel, a sixth-grade student, asked
Peres about his opinion with regard to revelations of racism, Peres was emphatic
in his condemnation.
“Everyone in Israel should be ashamed of what we
have witnessed in recent days,” said Peres. “We should all be grateful to
Ethiopian immigrants that they chose to come to Israel and not the other way
Peres was alluding to remarks made the previous day by Immigrant
Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, who said in response to anti-racist
demonstrations by Ethiopian immigrants that they should be “thankful” for what
Israel has done for them.
“There is no room for Hitlerism or racism in
Israel,” said Peres.
“Racists should be ashamed of what they do and what
they say. I know that there are a lot of unpleasant situations, but you have
nothing to be ashamed of. The racists should be ashamed. You shouldn’t have to
say thank you. They should say thank you. Racism and outbursts of rage are
untenable and should not be tolerated,” he said, adding that all people are
created in the image of God.
“When we established the state,” he
continued, “our dream was that it would attract Jews from Ethiopia, Russia,
Libya – in fact the whole world.
Everyone who came had absorption
difficulties, but there are those who simply do not know how to behave towards
Looking around at the integrated class of youngsters who
are being trained to grow up to be productive citizens of Israel, Peres told
them that they could serve as a paradigm. He was pleased to see how well they
related to each other, he said.
Ever curious, the youngsters wanted to
know what difficulties if any, Peres had encountered when he came as a child
from Poland. Peres admitted candidly that at the age of 11, his Hebrew was far
from fluent and other children in his class used to make fun of him. He was also
dressed differently, and they used to tease him mercilessly about his
Although he found this very hurtful, he persevered because he
was enchanted by the thought of being in the land of Israel. He loved the shades
of blue of the sky and the sabras who worked the soil in the effort to build up
“It took a while for me to acclimatize,” he said, “but after
that I was like any other Israeli.
Today I can tell you honestly, that if
you invest in your studies, you can be anything you want – even the president of