In Israel, New Ethiopian Knesset Member Prioritizes Immigrant Community

Newly elected Knesset Member Avraham Neguise at a Likud party meeting during the election campaign, Feb. 2015. (photo by Office of Avraham Neguise)

Al-Monitor

By Mazal Mualem

March 31, at the age of 57, 30 years after he left the town of Gondar in Ethiopia, Avraham Negusie was sworn in to the Israeli Knesset. He was elated the entire day.

Until election night, Negusie, 27th on the Likud list, watched the polls, which predicted barely 22 seats for the party and thought he was a long way from his dream of becoming a Knesset member. He was therefore surprised when, a half hour before television stations called the elections, he got an urgent call from Likud headquarters with the announcement, “Come to the exhibition gardens. There’s drama. It looks like you’re in.”

On his way from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, Negusie took dozens of phone calls from well-wishers, and since then, he has been busy planning his first term as one of Israel’s 120 elected representatives. It is clear to him that he’ll work on social issues and that he’ll be the advocate and voice for immigrants from Ethiopia on Knesset committees.

Negusie will be the only Knesset member with an Ethiopian background in the twentieth Knesset. Six members of the Ethiopian community have preceded him, among them the first woman Knesset member of Ethiopian descent, Penina Tamanu-Shata of Yesh Atid. Like his predecessors, Negusie seems to be an atypical, unrepresentative symbol for the integration of his ethnic group, most of which lives at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale in Israel, trapped in impoverished neighborhoods.

Negusie, who holds a doctorate in education, built his civic life mostly through political activism, including successful battles he led in the past two decades to bring Falash Mura to Israel. Today, according to Negusie, there are about 5,000 of them in Ethiopia who have families in Israel, and they will celebrate the traditional Seder dinner for Passover far from them in camps in Addis Ababa and Gondar.

“I hope that as a member of the Knesset I can influence the decision to bring them to Israel as soon as possible,” said Negusie in an interview with Al-Monitor. He also explained why the left hasn’t succeeded in becoming the political home of the Ethiopians in the full interview below:

Read the interview at Al-monitor.com »

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