A recent report that Israeli Deputy Public Security Minister Gadi Yevarkan is working with the country’s Housing and Construction Ministry on plans for a new town dedicated to housing members of Israel’s Ethiopian community has sparked controversy, with many decrying the idea as racist and separatist.

While Yevarkan told Israel Hayom that a new town for Ethiopian Israelis would be the “fulfillment of a dream,” many members of the community said it would take them “many steps backward.”

Israeli Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, also an immigrant from Ethiopia, said, “The project for an Ethiopian-only town is foolishness, and this thinking will lead to separatism and segregation for Ethiopian immigrants in Israel. It won’t happen on my watch!”

Tamano-Shata said that if Yevarkan supported the idea of an Ethiopian-only community, he should not be trying to fight segregated schools.

“He is actually calling for Ethiopian-Israelis to be separated from the rest of the population,” said the minister.

In a Facebook post directed at Yevarkan, Tamano-Shata wrote: “You are making a mistake, a big mistake. Our forefathers’ dream was never to build a separate community for Ethiopian Jews in Israel, and certainly not to live in separate communities, but rather to return to Zion and reunite with the rest of the Tribes of Israel.”

“Sadly, there are already neighborhoods that have turned into ‘Ethiopian communities’ … this idea puts the community back years,” wrote Tamano-Shata.

After coming under blistering criticism over his proposal, Yevarkan told Israel Hayom that he wanted to clarify that “a community of this kind would provide a housing solution for young couples. The town would be founded based on having a majority Ethiopian-Israeli population, and on the heritage and culture of the Beta Israel people and the Jewish people, with the rich cultural life, concern for each other, love for people and the Land of Israel on which we were raised.”

The proposal, he said, was about empowerment.

“The values that characterize the Beta Israel community can be a model for the rest of Israeli society. There is no better place for these values to flourish than one of empowerment. Anyone who is not Ethiopian-Israeli and wants to be part of the town will be welcome,” Yevarkan said.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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