In 2001, Israel announced a nationwide project aimed to help some 130,000 Ethiopian Israelis, the majority of whom made aliyah to Israel in the early 90s, to better integrate within the Israeli job market and its military and educational institutions. The budget of the nine-year program was set at $660-million.
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However, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira pointed to grave deficiencies in the implementation of the plan. Thus, since 2005, ministries have transferred only an annual average of NIS 22 million (roughly $6 million), a mere 8% of the annual budget for the project.
In regard to education, the report claimed a 2.3% percent of all Israeli schoolchildren are of Ethiopian origin, proportionate to the demographic size of the group. However there remain big gaps between the school performance of Ethiopian youths and their native Israeli counterparts. The average of eligibility for a matriculation certificate among Ethiopian students stands at 41%, while the national average is 54.4%. The gaps in rates of matriculation certificates that meet the standards of Israel's universities are even larger.
The Education Ministry, in coordination with the Treasury and the Absorption Ministry, has funded a program offering Ethiopian students extra classes and preparation for matriculation exams. However the state comptroller reported only some 40% of the students eligible for the program took any part in it.
It appears that the Education Ministry failed to define the exact perimeters of the program, including teaching hours, the size of classes and the extra-curricular social activities. In the end, the program remained at the mercy of school officials and failed to meet the specific needs of the students.
In higher education the picture is no better. Many have entered preparatory programs, yet relatively few ended up enrolling to colleges and universities. Also, the rate of college dropouts among Ethiopian students is 9% higher than it is among the rest of the population.
Another area in which the integration of Ethiopian youths has met significant difficulties was the military service. The report attested to high motivation to enlist to IDF service among youths of Ethiopian origin; however, the difficulties they encounter once within the system often prove insurmountable.
More than 20% of Ethiopian soldiers failed to complete their service in 2010 due to "serious misbehavior." Among the soldiers who were incarcerated during 2010 the number of Ethiopians was very high compared to the general population; the rates of absenteeism and desertion among the demographic were three times higher than the rate at IDF. Shapira wrote in the report the data should "light a social alarm."
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit responded to the report's view on the failed absorption of soldiers of Ethiopian descent in the Israeli army, stating: "The IDF runs an extensive program that works to promote the integration of soldiers of Ethiopian origin before they are enlisted and until they are released from the IDF."
The situation is reflected in the job market, where the majority of the group work in low-paid menial jobs.
The comptroller rounded off the report saying "The findings of this report indicate that, despite the considerable efforts of government agencies and the third sector to promote Ethiopian Israelis, the gap between them and the rest of the population remains a considerable one."
The first female Ethiopian MK, Pnina Tamano-Shata (Yesh Atid), who serves as Chairwoman of the Political Action Committee (PAC) for the Promotion of Ethiopians, and MK Shimon Solomon head of the PAC for Ethiopians Soldiers and Higher Education responded to the reports findings and said: "We praise the comptroller for his report, which proves what we have been saying and fighting for years.
"Unfortunately, previous governments have led the Ethiopian public astray, endowing it with a false sense of hope in the form of a five-year-program supposedly intended to promote the communities' rights, all the while failing to properly fund the program… leading to its failure… and effectively creating a glass ceiling in terms of employment, education and welfare."
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