Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) vowed to tackle the problem of discrimination against Ethiopian Jews as his first item of business on Sunday, days after being appointed to the post.
"Israeli society's attitude toward immigrants in general and Ethiopians in particular is patronizing," Elkin said to Walla! News. He added that recent protests "are certainly an expression of distress and hard feelings from parts of this community" and that Israel "must take it seriously."
Elkin said the first working meeting held on the subject of community distress will be held Monday and that he will broach the subject later Sunday in his first official speech as minister, commemorating the Ethiopian immigrants who died trying to reach Israel.
"The first thing I'm doing as a minister is [speaking at] this ceremony," Elkin noted. "This ceremony is deeply meaningful."
According to him, the discourse in Israel about the immigration of Ethiopian Jews must fundamentally change.
"We are constantly speaking of Ethiopian Jews as if we brought them here, but they immigrated here [on their own]," Elkin said. "We helped them immigrate, but the process came from the people themselves."
"They left their homes and many of them died on the way," he said. "This is dedication."
"When we treat them as equals […] without patronage, everything will look different," he emphasized. "This is true for Ethiopians, for the Russians, and that was true for the immigration of the Mizrahi community."
Elkin qualified, however, that there has been no excuse for protests turning violent.
"Of course the aspect of violence was totally unnecessary," he said, "but it reflects a genuine distress and it requires both Israeli society and the Ministry of Absorption to relate to it."
"Most [Ethiopians] were indeed born here, but we still have to play an important part in every process of the Absorption of this community," he added.
Two Israel Police officers brutally beat Ethiopian soldier Damas Pakada in Holon earlier this month, sparking a series of mass protests in major Israeli cities.