After Decades Of Discrimination, Israel’s Ethiopian Jews Say Enough Is Enough

Israel is home to roughly 100,000 Falashas, black Jews of Ethiopian descent. They have no government representation and say they’re treated like second-class citizens. Led by a hitherto unknown man named Molat Araro, the Falashas are finally starting to s

Serge Dumon

JERUSALEM -- "Don't look at me like a savage," declares Molat Araro. Until relatively recently, the 26-year-old was almost completely unknown within his Israel-based community of Falashas, black Ethiopian Jews. And he was even more anonymous in the rest of the Hebrew state where these Africans, who are taken for descendants of the mythical Queen of Sheba, are usually very discreet.

But everything changed when this physical education student set off on a march against racism, wearing an Israeli flag and with half his face painted blue. This pilgrimage took him from Kiryat Malahi, a small town in the south of Israel where 20% of the inhabitants are Falashas, to the doors of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem.

Approximately 5,000 other Falashas were waiting for him there to denounce the discrimination they face in Israel. "When our parents emigrated en masse at the start of the 1980s, they thought they were escaping to paradise. But all they have found is contempt," says Adissu Mohal, a 40-year-old supermarket employee. "Not a day goes by without someone treating me like a cockroach because of the color of my skin."

"They should be grateful"

The Falashas discontent spilled over three weeks ago when the white inhabitants of Kiryat Malahi agreed in writing not to rent or sell any goods to the blacks. The town hall supported the agreement. "We don't want these shits in our buildings," town residents told television reporters. In response, the Falashas, who hadn't protested since 1995, took to the streets. "We are just like you, listen to us!" the protestors shouted.

Israel's minister for immigration and integration, on the other hand, denies that a problem exists. Minister Sofa Landver, a Russian-born therapist, said the Falashas would be well advised to keep quiet. "They should be grateful to the State for everything that has been done for them," she said.

It is this kind of open disdain that spurred 5,000 ex-Ethiopians to give Molat Araro a hero's welcome upon his arrival in Jerusalem. They hope to protest in even greater numbers in Tel Aviv over the coming months.

"In Israel, you don't get anywhere if you don't shout. The time has come to act, because our situation is unbearable," says Kfissa, a single mother whose two daughters, aged 8 and 11, remain at home because no school will accept them. "We have had enough of not being good enough for anything except emptying bins for a meager wage or begging for welfare."

There are only about 100,000 Falashas in Israel. Together they represent just 1.5% of the population and have no representation in government. A disturbing sign of just how desperate conditions are for some Falashas are the numerous murder-suicide cases that have occurred over the past decade. There have been at least 30 cases of unemployed and depressed Falasha men killing their wives and children before taking their own lives. Dozens of others have attempted, unsuccessfully, to do the same.

Aware of the seriousness of the problem, the Ministry of Immigration commissioned a study in 2009, but the results were so damning for the State's integration policies that the most sensitive chapters were never released.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Vladim Lavrusik

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!