Israel has just appointed its first black minister, Pnina Tamano-Shata, from the Ethiopian Jewish community. Despite this encouraging gesture, the community still faces discrimination and racism in Israel.
It has been a remarkable journey for Tamano-Shata, who was appointed minister of immigration and integration on May 1, 2020. Born in Ethiopia, in what’s known as the Falasha or Beta Israel community, she spent her first few years in a refugee camp in Sudan.
At the age of three, she was repatriated to Israel as part of a clandestine transfer operation organized by Tel Aviv with the support of Washington, known as Operation Moses. She was among 7,000 Ethiopian Jews who arrived in Israel between November 20, 1984, and January 6, 1985.
Once settled in Israel, she integrated well into society, studied law and worked as a journalist and lawyer. She also became involved in civil society groups, becoming vice-president of the National Association of Ethiopian Students in 2004, and a member of the executive committee of Transparency International from 2015 to 2018.
She then started a political career and was elected to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, where she served as a representative of the secular party, Yesh Atid, from 2013 to 2015.
Her social and political commitment earned her recognition in Israel as well as abroad. In 2016 she won the Unsung Award prize, awarded by the Drum Major Institute, an American nongovernmental organization that fights for human rights and racial equality.
The ultimate recognition came in May 2020 after she was reelected to Knesset on March 2, then appointed minister of immigration and integration. When asked about her appointment, she said
I am delighted and proud to take on the role of minister of immigration and integration. For me, it is a landmark and the closing of a circle for this 3-year-old girl who immigrated to Israel without a mother, crossing the desert on foot; growing up in Israel, and in the struggles that I have led and that I still lead for the community, integration, acceptance of others and against discrimination and racism; up to my public mission inside and outside the walls of the Knesset and today to the role of minister of immigration and integration.
Immigration is the beating heart and soul of the State of Israel. I will work diligently to encourage immigration from countries all over world and to lead the reform of the immigrant absorption process in Israel.