A Story Rewritten: Ethiopians Jews Rewriting Their Story

Years of Activity: 2016

Research Status:

Active
Participants: 

Danny Admasu, Kasa Getu, David Mihret, Sula Mola, Yonatan Reuven, Sharon Shalom, Shira Shato

Rationale

Most of the scholars studying Ethiopian Jews are not of Ethiopian descent, and most of the studies in this field are not informed by critical discourse. The uncritical perspective of research on Ethiopian Jews limits it and determines its folkloric, local, and apolitical nature, cut off from the universal atmosphere and from local changes in the Ethiopian community in Israel in particular and in Israeli society in general.

One of the salient manifestations of this uncritical approach is the total hegemony of the establishment’s narrative of Ethiopian aliyah. This narrative is limited to a few aliyah stories, first and foremost the aliyah through Sudan known as Operation Moses. It ignores the perspective of the immigrants themselves and Israel’s role in the death of thousands of the refugees in Sudan while the government debated how to relate to this part of the Jewish people. The establishment narrative begins at a particular moment so as to aggrandize the state’s role in the ingathering of the exiles, and it conceals the beginning of the aliyah of Ethopian Jews, many years before Operation Moses. It is presented as the sole narrative, shunting aside other stories that do not fit in with it or even contradict it.

Another manifestation of the lacuna in academic research on the aliyah from Ethiopia is the lack of a critical discourse on the racism toward blacks in Israel. The absence of race from the academic discourse renders every study on Ethiopian immigrants deficient and partial, because this wave of immigration changed the Israeli space substantially. It raised again the question of who is a Jew and it shed new light on questions regarding the boundaries of color in Jewish society—questions that still have no academic response.

 

Group Activity

The research group meets monthly at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. In each of the initial meetings, two participants present the topic of their research, after which there is a discussion. After these initial meetings, in which the group coalesces, both intellectually and socially, the participants focus on their chosen topics and deal with them in both the full forum and in small discussion groups.