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Ethiopian Immigrants: We Feel that Israelis See Us as Backwards

A study seeks to explain how Ethiopian and Russian immigrants perceive the difficulties they have in Israeli society.
By David Lev
First Publish: 12/1/2011, 12:59 PM

Ethiopian Aliyah
Ethiopian Aliyah
Flash 90

Russian immigrants feel that language – their inability to speak Hebrew like “an Israeli” - is the main reason involved when they have a hard time fitting into the Israeli job market, while Ethiopian immigrants feel that Israelis' stereotype  them.

These contentions were published in a study undertaken by Ruppin College and released Thursday, in honor of the recently celebrated Sigd holiday of the Ethiopian community in Israel.

The study related only to the perceptions of members of the communities themselves. It did not check out the truth of the perceptions, seek to poll "veteran" Israelis, ask why they did or did not hire members of the groups, or whether they agreed with the opinions of the immigrants.

Over 72% of Ethiopian Jews believe that stereotypes of them – as poor, uneducated, backwards immigrants “just off the boat” who do not understand the basics of living in Western society (race and skin color were not considered by them to be a problem) – prevented them from getting good jobs, with employers willing to hire them for mostly manual labor and low-tech jobs.

The second and third reasons – with slightly less than 72% of those polled agreeing – were that they could not afford express travel to interviews, and thus were unable to get to interviews for good jobs before others (preventing them from getting a fair chance at the job), and the lack of a properly prepared resume.

Sixty-nine percent said that their biggest problem was lack of a social network (connections or “protekzia”) in Israel. Only 48.1% felt that lack of Hebrew proficiency was the reason they had a hard time getting hired.

For Russian immigrants, the results were quite different; here, 87.1% felt that language – including accents that identified them as being from the former Soviet Union, even when their ability to speak Hebrew was excellent – was the number one reason they did not get hired. Interestingly, many famous Israeli personalities of the earlier days of the state had noticeable Russian or Polish accents.

About 81% attributed their difficulties to the tough economy and competition, while 80.3% cited their lack of experience in the Israeli labor market, and 78.8% said that it was the perception by employers that they could not relate to the “Israeli mentality.” Only 23.5% cited issues like lack of money or transportation issues in looking for work as factors in their failure to break through.

The study, said its authors (top staff of Ruppin's business and sociology departments) showed that immigrants from the FSU had a more “objective” view of their problems – attributing their difficulties in finding a job to national problems like a slow economy and competition – while the Ethiopian immigrants believed that their woes were due to personal, subjective issues, such as stereotypes and lack of money.

The results of the study, said authors, should be taken into account by agencies and organizations seeking to help immigrants from these groups find their place in Israeli society.