'Ethiopian tenants? Out of the question'
Real estate agent trying to find apartment in Ashkelon for new immigrants shocked to discover building has policy of not selling flats to Ethiopians, 'because it drops the apartments' value.' Deputy mayor: Unfortunately, I've encountered this problem many times
By Shmulik Hadad, YnetNews.com
Ugly racism in Ashkelon: R., a real estate agent from Ashkelon, arrived at a building in one of the southern city's neighborhoods recently with a couple of new immigrants, and was shocked to discover that the place has a policy of not selling apartments to Ethiopians.
A thorough investigation revealed that this policy is shared by all of the building's tenants, and perhaps the residents of additional buildings in the area as well – most of them of Russian descent.
In a conversation the real estate agent had with A., the owner of one of the building's apartments, A. asked about the potential buyers. When he heard that they were Ethiopian immigrants, he replied, "Out of the question… This is unacceptable in my apartment.
"Excuse me, but there are no Ethiopians in this area at all, and there won't be any. This is our policy. I have no problem with them living somewhere else… Anyone can come, but not Ethiopians. This is how it is in the entire building, at least I hope it is, in order to preserve the apartment's value and the building's value."
In another conversation, A. repeated his stance, adding, "We’ve kept this rule of not selling to Ethiopians for 16 years. I can't speak for the entire house, but this is how I feel… It immediately drops the apartment's value… Although I'll be leaving the building, their apartments drop 30% in value… I'm no expert in the details, but the price goes down if Ethiopians come.
"I don’t care who lives here, I'm not racist. But when I leave the building where I have lived for the past 16 years, the rest of the tenants will look at me as a traitor because I sold to Ethiopians. I don’t want to ruin my relations with my friends."
A. went on to explain, "It just happened that there are no Ethiopians in the houses around us. A quarter of the apartments have been sold in our building. There are no Ethiopians at all, and almost everyone is Russian.... It's not a written rule, but there is such a decision that it drops the apartment's value.
"This isn't a racist issue, this is reality, which proves that it drops the apartments' prices. Why? That question should be directed to those who don’t want to pay. It's not my call, it's the fact on the ground. People call me at the apartment and they almost always ask, 'Do you have Ethiopians in the building?' It matters to some people, that's all."
The apartment was eventually sold to a couple of new immigrants from Russia.
'No Ethiopians here'
Another resident in the building, who only identified herself as Irena, also clarified that "we have no Ethiopians in this building". Pointing at the eastern end of the neighborhood, she added, "There are Ethiopians down there. We don’t have any. I don’t know who I'll sell my house to, but I won't sell it to Ethiopians. It's our building, we're all friends here, we grew up together, and each person wants to live next to the people he knows."
"And you don’t know the Ethiopians?" she was asked. "No, I don’t know them, and I don’t think I want to get to know them," she replied and hurried home.
Ashkelon's Deputy Mayor Avi Vaaknin, who has previously been in charge of the city's welfare department and has dealt with issues concerting the Ethiopian community, said in response the he is familiar with this phenomenon.
"Unfortunately, we have encountered this phenomenon many times, and each time I was shocked because one expects such phenomena to disappear in this era. But each time you hear about it you think it's a one-time incident. Unfortunately, this phenomenon exists, and it's good that it has been exposed in its full ugliness, because raising this issue will only help fight such ugly phenomenon," he noted.
Former Council Member Shlomo Blai, head of the Ethiopian community in Ashkelon, was shocked to hear about the story. He said he had heard about the phenomenon in the distant past, "but I couldn’t believe such things still exist in Ashkelon. It's shocking, outrageous, and simply awful. I talk about it and I'm all shaking with anger.
"It's unthinkable that such things happen in 2009. Each time I hear about such racist things I ask myself what sin have we committed. Is a person's skin color enough to cause people to treat other people like this? They are not criminals or bad people, but rather people like you and me. I won't keep silent over this issue."
The irony here is that it is likely many of these Russians are not halakhicly Jewish and, even if they are, they are likely to be completely secular.
On the other hand, the Ethiopians are most likely converts who observe halakha (Jewish law), pray in Orthodox synagogues and vote Shas.
Yet, I suspect many would agree with the apartment owners – especially if the story had been written without mentioning those owners are mostly Russians.
Because most of us still view Ethiopian Jews as Others.
Acting on that view guarantees continued poverty, crime and disenfranchisement for Ethiopian Jews – which itself reinforces the negative stereotypes of them many of us share.
It's a self-fulfilling prophesey. Treat people as Others and they will become Others – even if they pray at an Orthodox synangogue near you.