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The situation over the last two days in Israel has been weighing on many of our hearts. As thousands gathered in Israel to protest the treatment of Ethiopians one could not help but be reminded of recent events in the States. We stand with the clear statements of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decrying any institutionalized racism and share with you the poignant statement of Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky below. (The Jewish Agency is a beneficiary agency of our Federation, and most Federations across the system.)

The Jewish Federation of St. Louis has had an abiding commitment to our Ethiopian family even before their immigration to Israel. Our decision to join with Yokne’am and Megiddo in the 1990s as our partnership region was made in large part because of its leadership’s decision to welcome Ethiopian immigrants with open arms during that time. In fact our work in the region has been held up as a model for how to integrate the Ethiopian Jewish community into Israeli society; it is work we continue to support today. But we all recognize there is significant work yet to be done.

We stand by the statements expressed in so many venues over the last few days, weeks and months: that systemic discrimination against any particular population, particularly on the basis of race, is unacceptable and a violation of our core Jewish values. We welcome the clarity of statements made today by Israeli top leadership. We will continue to work with our partner agencies here in the region, in Israel and anywhere there is a need, to advance the agenda of social justice for all.

Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D.

Statement by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky

JERUSALEM – In light of recent events, Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky has issued the following statement:

“We were all deeply shocked by the terrible video clip in which an Israeli soldier of Ethiopian origin was seen being beaten by a police officer in broad daylight. Yet although I was stunned by the awful images of a policeman beating a soldier, I was even more affected by the soldier’s heartfelt words about his and his community’s feelings regarding their experience of racism in Israeli society.

“The State of Israel and The Jewish Agency for Israel have invested tremendous effort over many years to bring our Ethiopian brothers and sisters home to Israel. These efforts were based on a deep sense of Jewish solidarity and connection, as are all of our Aliyah efforts around the world.

“Our vision is based on the ingathering of exiles and full equality for all of Israel’s citizens, as enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. In light of that vision, we at The Jewish Agency view it as our mission to connect all immigrants to the State of Israel and to ease their integration into Israel’s social fabric, where they must find their rightful place as full and equal citizens.

“At this time, as painful cries of protest rise up against discrimination and exclusion targeting Israelis of Ethiopian origin, we must all listen carefully, help foster a more constructive discourse, and mobilize to improve the situation in a real and tangible way. I call on the protesters to exercise good judgment and moderation, to respect the law and public order, and to utilize the societal conversation that has been started to achieve their worthy and legitimate goals using the democratic tools at our disposal.

“Only by working together will we find the path toward overcoming the obstacles that lie ahead and ensuring a common future for the State of Israel and the entire Jewish people.”