Brothers and sisters, stop yer wailing!

Tomorrow marks 50 days since young Ethiopians set up a protest tent at the top of my street.

I walk Stuey and Dexxy past the tent – situated outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, on the same spot that the Shalit tent stood for three and a half years – with its “Stop Racism” and “Apartheid 2012” signs, most mornings. And, if you ask me, there are just some people you can never please.

Admitted, Israel’s 120,000 Ethiopians suffer institutional racism and discrimination, and enormous economic, employment-related and educational hardship – unemployment is over double that in the Jewish population as a whole, nearly three-quarters of Ethiopian families live below the poverty line, and their children are forced to attend separate kindergartens and schools but, hello-o, would Ethiopians prefer to still be living in Africa, with its famines, droughts, human rights abuses and civil wars, rather than in Israel, with Big Brother and The Voice?!

Many passers-by clearly also have difficulty understanding what it is exactly that that the tent-dwellers want . . .

“My parents and their 17 children walked here from Morocco in 1955,” one woman told me. “We lived on leaves and grass,” she continued, “but we didn’t complain.”

And an elderly gentleman, born in Yemen, said: “We are also black . . . I mean, lighter than them, but still black. And it wasn’t easy with those bastard Ashkenazim, I can tell you! But we succeeded. And we did it through hard work, not charity.”

And, while we are on the subject, my aliyah wasn’t easy either. I had to share the ulpan/absorption centre with at least two dozen French, and – with the exception of the half-wit who walked around screaming “You fuck my wife?” (the only sentence that he knew, having apparently spent all of his high school leçons d’anglais memorising the script of Raging Bull) – the swines refused to speak a word of English.

And not all the new olim came with cash in the bank. Indeed, one of the Russian lasses was even said to have run a knocking shop from her bedroom (tragically, I only tend to discover such things when it is too late).

So, Ethiopian brothers and sisters, in the prophetic words of (your) Bob, you’ve gotta be “iron like a lion in Zion”: see your Israeli cup as half full . . . and stop yer wailing!


28 responses to “Brothers and sisters, stop yer wailing!

  1. trevor leigh

    I’d say that’s the worst piece you’ve ever written Mike. The experiences of the Ethiopians arriving in Israel a generation ago is not something of which we can be proud and they and their kids do need a little helping hand considering that they come from very basic societies and there is a massive adjustment to living in in a society in Israel that is in many ways post-industrial. There is an even larger social participation in Israeli Society by Jews of Ethiopian descent and all the research shows that the greater the participation the greater the acceptance and socio economic success. We have much to gain from what our Ethiopian brethren bring us. It is easy to miss it for a Yecker’s blinkered lack of understanding.

  2. “The worst piece”? Harsh, Trevor. Harsh.

    “We have much to gain from what our Ethiopian brethren bring us.”

    You’re telling me, Trevor . . . I had a brief liaison with an Ethiopian girl, and it was utterly memorable, I can tell you! So I’ve done my bit (so to speak).

    The opportunities in that department are, however, sadly restricted as a result of Ethiopians’ lowly socio-economic status here, and the fact that relatively few of them can afford the cost of living in Tel Aviv.

    I have considered campaigning for Ethiopian rights . . . though the variety that their women would bring to my sex life is not, I am told, an acceptable campaign platform.

  3. Steve Jellyfish

    I’m saddened by your latest article Mike, whilst not ostensibly racist it is facile, glib and not dealing with the real issue.

    Every group group of olim feels maligned and downtrodden and yet our Ethiopian brothers and sisters face unique challenges which you gloss over.

    There is nothing wrong with criticising things in Israel and fighting racism here, and at the same time acknowledging that life is probably better here than it would have been there [in Ethiopia].

    You seem to suggest that life being better here is somehow a reason why they [the Ethiopians] should not complain.

    Is that what you actually meant?

  4. Can’t agree with you on this one Mike. As a recently failed “Oleh” (how I hate that expression with all it’s quasi religious/messianic baggage) from a another “First World” culture, surprisingly perhaps, I feel a great deal of sympathy for Ethiopians. The huge problem with Israel is that it is not so much a cultural melting pot (like say the U.S.), as much as it has evolved into a cultural forge, where everyone and everything is subsumed by the official state culture (by which I mean everything – from employment regulation to healthcare to the crude “Ashkanaziation” of the state religion). This is fine for those for whom the official state culture familiar and comforting. But, for those like me, and the Ethiopians, for whom it feels alien and insensitive – intolerant even, one lives one’s days feeling out of place and after a while, desperate. Modern Israel is like a blanket. For many, it a security blanket, for me and the Ethiopians it merely suffocates. Unlike the trapped Ethiopians though, I was free to leave.

  5. David James was on the radio once, talking about his charity work in Africa. He said that he’d been to places where people were going without clean water, not because of drought but because they didn’t know how to irrigate a nearby lake and provide for themselves. He suggested that education was needed there to teach them to do this. Maybe some Ethiopians need a particular type of education to help them get by and then they will climb up the ladder like some of the African Americans have done across the pond.

    Yesterday I read that Ariel Sharon’s mum could be heard complaining bitterly, every day and night that she toiled on the land and went without the basics in Kfar Malal. Maybe that’s the answer express bitterness from time to time, complain from time to time but most importantly get on with things and keep progressing upwards.

  6. She must be getting on a bit now, Ariel Sharon’s mum. Toiling the land?! No wonder she’s complaining bitterly.

    Anyway, very practical advice, Dovid. Thank you. I’ll find out how to irrigate a lake and pass the info onto the brothers later.

  7. The story about Ariel Sharon’s parents was in this book, Ariel Sharon: A Life by Nir Hefez and Gadi Bloom . . .

    An interesting one to borrow.

    I hear Israel had a bit more rain than usual this year so it might be useful to know!

  8. “irrigate a lake”??? That sounds like sand blasting a desert or swearing at a Leeds supporter…

  9. Sorry, irrigate the land.
    Supply the surrounding dry land with water from the lake through pipes or other means in order to make the land fertile.

  10. Jeremy Cohen

    Epic fail. Disappointing and verging on racist, depending what I decide to read between the lines.

  11. “racist”, Jeremy? Why? Surely you see that Ethiopians whingeing about their economic status here is even more ridiculous than Israelis living in the UK moaning about British rudeness, inability to queue and discourtesy on the roads?!

    Could living in Harlem have made you a tad oversensitive?

  12. Jeremy Cohen

    Yes Mike, the reason I deem your article racist is because I live in Harlem. All those black people living around me have dulled my senses, and I have lost the ability to think normally. I guess I should move to Jerusalem, to give my intellect a chance to recover and possibly produce gems such as:

    “Admitted, Israel’s 120,000 Ethiopians suffer institutional racism and discrimination…separate schools…but, hello-o, would Ethiopians prefer to still be living in Africa, with its famines, droughts, human rights abuses and civil wars, rather than in Israel…?”

    Do you seriously expect your readers to swallow the idea that simply because Ethiopians had it worse in Ethiopia that they somehow have no right to complain about institutionalized racism in Israel?

    Are you truly saying they should “stop wailing” and “see the cup as half full”?

    Come on Mike, this is loathesome.

  13. No, “come on” Jeremy! What was the date, again, yesterday?

  14. Jeremy Cohen

    Oh thank gods for that

  15. Well done Mike, the best con since Panorama’s spaghetti spoof back in ’57. Incidentally, I’m surrounded by “up-scale” Israeli’s here in Hampstead and the only thing they complain about is having to go all the way to Golders Green or Temple Fortune (a significant journey in Israeli terms) to get good humus – apart from that, they seem exceptionally content, charming and generally well behaved. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that they ask for coffee and fruit juice in the local pubs it’s hard to tell that they are actual Israelis. I wonder if they take this restrained behaviour back home with them?

  16. Building the state is more then just about building Universities, Yeshevot, having an army or a budding economy. It’s more then just about road, rail, and some form of funtioning govenment or democracy. These (and similar) things while important are like the body of Israel…
    …The soul of Israel is about the ingathering and how we pull togeather. How we respect and care for one another. How we see the troubles of our fellows and help bare them as if they are our own.
    We were sent into exile due to our causeless hatered of on another, we have to learn from our mistakes. The body has been/is being reformed we have to now act on the most important part the soul.
    May we ALL be blessed to see The Hope we have all carried these long years be fullfilled in our days.
    Am Echad, B’Lev Echad.

  17. Hmmmmmm………Sounds as if you might need to explain the relevance of yesterday’s date Mike.

  18. Seeing as it is now the second of April, Simon (whose spelling reeks strongly of Hasmonean), I could not agree with you more.

    The most worrying aspect of my prank is what Dovid’s almost complete acceptance of it says about current attitudes in North Manchester! Another reader also messaged me, off-blog, to say that he, too, had serious doubts about the wisdom of rescuing all those Ethiopians. Nice!

    As for Liz Tal (née Baigel), I apparently totally disrupted her Pesach cleaning yesterday, as she tried every means – short of publishing a notice in The Times – to expose my Fool and, at the same time, show herself to be cleverer than everyone else for spotting it!

  19. Simon Green


    Agreed let’s blame this whole thing on Hasmo. Game of hand-ball anyone? 🙂

  20. Would expressing anti-semitism on April 1st in a blog be considered an April fool or a racially aggravated offence?

    Even if the racist arguments in this thread can be justified as an April fool (I don’t think they can but you’re the lawyer Mike). What’s to stop fascists, neo nazis and bigots from copying parts of the article into their hate filled websites.

    Ethiopian-Israeli Jewish people look more like Moshe Rabbeinu than most Jewish people do nowadays. Jewish people had dark skin when the Torah was given. We need our gene pool broadening and thank G-d Israel rescued many Jewish people from Ethiopia. The African nations are blessed with great physical strength, athleticism, and a great sense of rhythm and soul. Personally, I’m glad that some of the lost 10 tribes have found their way home and I hope the people protesting find success sooner than the Shalits did.

  21. Hmmm . . . what “racist arguments” do you consider “fascists, neo nazis and bigots” might need to “copy” from melchett mike?!

    “The African nations are blessed with great physical strength, athleticism, and a great sense of rhythm and soul.”

    You left big willies out of your stereotypes. Are you on drugs, Dovid?

  22. If you want the real low down on the Jewish gene-pool Dovid you should read the works of people like Professor Steven Jones. The science of our genetic heritage is far more interesting than we could ever have imagined – and for one large group of ostensibly “yer actual biblical Jews” somewhat disappointing. If you want to look into the face of the closest thing to a biblical Jew – at least from as far back as the destruction of the First Temple, you need find your nearest Iraqi and/or Persian neighbour. You are correct up to a point though, in that recent studies do prove that not only are the Ethiopians carriers of Jewish genes, so are the Lemba People in Southern Africa.

    In the meantime, it sounds to me like you need to lighten up a little bit on poor old Mike – as Donald Sutherland’s wonderful character Oddball put it so eloquently in Kelly’s Heroes: “enough already with those negative waves man!” – or words to that effect.

  23. Ben Wulfsohn


    I realize the article was tongue-in-cheek, but can you clarify that Ethiopian children having to attend separate kindergartens and schools was part of the joke.


  24. Some bigot could copy for example the paragraph which Jeremy Cohen highlighted and use it perniciously, adding hearsay and extrapolation to make it more loathsome and nasty.

    Thanks Adam Green for the heads up. It’s well known that Moshe Rabbeinu was born in Africa, was raised by an Egyptian woman and was probably educated in the Egyptian equivalent of Oxford or Cambridge university. Moshe’s teachings are read in synagogues every week so there are lots of good Jewish African influences in our people. Long may they continue!

  25. Ben, I can clarify that it is, apparently, sadly true. Google it.

    Fair enough, Dovid. Misuse of the paragraph could also even lead (chas ve’sholom) to mixed dancing.

  26. Ben Wulfsohn

    Thanks Mike. I googled it. Shocking and very sad.

  27. Terrill T. Crookshank

    Hello my name is Terrill T.C a.k.a Relic I’m an American citizen in America right now feeling prompted/lead to share greetings! May God bless you! Shiloh! T.C

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