Survey: 90% of Ethiopian Israelis resist interracial marriage

By Ofri Ilani, Haaretz – 16 Nov 2009

Intermarriage between between Jews from different ethnic backgrounds has increased steadily over the past several decades, and people say that this is solving the socioeconomic gaps that existed between Ashkenazim and Sephardim in Israeli society.

However, Ethiopian Israelis seem to be exempt from the trend, so far. According to a Central Bureau of Statistics report published on, about 90 percent of Ethiopians – 93 percent of men and 85 percent of women – marry within their community.

The statistical portrait of Ethiopian Israelis was published to coincide with the community’s Sigd holiday, which is celebrated every year on the 29th of Heshvan on the Hebrew calendar, which is today.

At the end of 2008, there were 119,300 people of Ethiopian descent in Israel, including nearly 81,000 people born in Ethiopia and about 38,500 native Israelis (about 32 percent of the community) who had at least one parent who was born in Ethiopia.

The urban areas with the largest concentrations of Ethiopians include Netanya, where one in 10 residents is Ethiopian; and Kiryat Malakhi, where one in three residents, or 3,400 people, are Ethiopian.

The election of Barack Obama, whose father was black and whose mother was white, highlighted the subject of interracial marriage. Nonetheless, the rate of racial intermarriage in the United States is lower than it is in Israel.

According to a study published in the U.S. two years ago, 6 percent of black people who married, married a white person, as opposed to 10 percent in Israel.

The Center for Academic Studies found last year that most Israeli respondents were not comfortable with the prospect of one of their own children marrying an Ethiopian.

Fifty-seven percent said it would be entirely unacceptable for their daughters to marry an Ethiopian, and 39 percent said so regarding their sons.

Avi Masfin, the deputy director of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, says the barriers to intermarriage come from both sides.

“I think from the standpoint of Israeli society generally and from the standpoint of those of Ethiopian origin, it will take time until there is readiness for intermarriage. Portions of the Ethiopian community itself are conservative and have concerns.”

Masfin said the figures also reflect the community’s relative isolation.

“People who have left that isolation, through the army, the university [or] mixed clubs, can see that even if there are differences in culture, they can be bridged,” he said.

Masfin, who immigrated from Ethiopia in 1986, is married to a woman who is not Ethiopian, whom he met while the two were students at Bar-Ilan University.

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