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Second generation Ethiopian-Israelis demonstrate in Jerusalem, demand for fair and equal treatment

Yetmwork Makurya, 35, had tears in her eyes as she spoke of her attachment to Israel. When she arrived as a teenager in 1991 on a secret overnight airlift from Ethiopia, she said, “Jerusalem and the land of Israel was my dream.”

Yet over the past three months Ms. Makurya has spent much of her time with an angry new generation of Ethiopian-Israeli activists on the sidewalk near the prime minister’s residence in central Jerusalem, protesting against unofficial but hurtful racism and discrimination.

“Here,” said Ms. Makurya, a mother of three, “everything is determined by the color of my skin.”

For many Israelis, the idea that Jews could be racist toward other Jews is anathema. The 1991 airlift, known as Operation Solomon, brought 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel within 36 hours and was greeted at the time with great celebration.

Natan Sharansky, the human rights activist who spent years in Soviet prisons before arriving in Israel, joined one of the flights.

In an interview on the 20th anniversary of the airlift last year, Mr. Sharansky, by then the chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency that deals with immigration, said with pride, “Black, white — there is no difference in the ingathering of exiles.”

As the dazed new immigrants descended the plane steps, many kissed the tarmac. Operation Solomon followed an earlier, smaller wave of clandestine immigration in the 1980s, involving a treacherous trek from Ethiopia to camps on the Sudanese border. Thousands perished along the way; Israel recently began honoring them with official memorials.

Armies of volunteers and organizations, and a plethora of programs largely financed by American Jews, helped ease the transition of the Ethiopians from the rural life to modern Israeli society. The government has also allocated significant resources to help them.

But a second generation of young, educated adults who have grown up in Israel say they are still struggling to be accepted as Israeli, and are distancing themselves from the grateful passivity of their parents.

“For our parents it was a privilege to come to Israel, so they didn’t complain,” said Yamluck Waggow Ichasheman, 31. “Longings for Zion brought them here.”

They bristle at what they see as a patronizing attitude. Many Israelis, said Ms. Makurya, who works as a counselor, convey the message, “ ‘Say thank you that you’re here, we gave you food.’ ” She added, “Some here say there is no such thing as a black Jew.”

The immigrants first exploded in rage when reports emerged in 1996 that Israel was secretly dumping blood donated by Ethiopians for fear that it was contaminated with H.I.V.

Immigration experts here say that the Ethiopian-Israelis do face some racism and prejudice, but that racism is not the main problem blocking their progress. Earlier immigrants from other countries like Morocco and Yemen also had a long, rough entry into Israeli society.

“I have always said that integration takes a generation,” said Arnon Mantver, the director of JDC-Israel, the Israeli branch of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which has worked intensively with the Ethiopian community. Given the formidable challenges facing the Ethiopians, he said, “Perhaps it takes longer.”

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