At the age of eleven she started working at odd jobs but hid that from her parents. She says she was often mistreated by her employers, which helps shape who she is today. "Looking back, I think it just made me stronger – being part of the low class, witnessing discrimination. I learned early on to fight for my own rights. That biography has made me who I am today."
Pnina Tamano-Shata is the first Ethiopian female to be elected to Knesset. She was elected last Tuesday as number 14 on Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party’s Knesset list. Ynet posted a nice profile of her today. Here are some highlights:
• She immigrated to Israel in 1984’s Operation Moses. (A rescue I’m proud to have worked on.)
• She had to choose a birthdate to put on her Israeli identification papers because no one in her family knew the exact date. She chose November 1, 1981.
• She lived with her family in an absorption center for about four years, and then moved with them to the Israel city of Petach Tikva in 1988.
• She’s married and has two children.
• Like many Ethiopian children, she was sent to boarding school by the state. "I'm a boarding-school girl. When we came to Israel, the state policy was to send Ethiopian children to schools far from home, due to socioeconomic issues. My parents had very little money; we were poor and the move to Israel was not an easy one.”
• Like many Ethiopians who came to Israel as young children, as she grew up Tamano-Shata learned to fill the gaps in her parent’s knowledge and in their ability to navigate what was to them a very foreign Israel society.”When I was seven, I switched to 'adult mode.' I was my parents' voice, standing up for their rights when people would cut in line or disrespect them."
• At the age of eleven she started working at odd jobs but hid that from her parents. She says she was often mistreated by her employers, which helps shape who she is today. "Looking back, I think it just made me stronger – being part of the low class, witnessing discrimination. I learned early on to fight for my own rights. That biography has made me who I am today."
• Her grandfather is a leading kess (also spelled kais), an Ethiopian religious leader roughly equivalent to a rabbi.
• In high school, Tamano-Shata studied in a special program for gifted students.
• After graduation, she served in the army.
• After the army she studied for a law degree.
• She served as the President of the Ethiopian Student Union,.
• After getting her law degree and interning at a law firm, Tamano-Shata switched careers to became a correspondent for Channel 1 news. Channel 1’s senior correspondent Uri Levy, who later co-anchored a current affairs program with Tamano-Shata, told Ynet that when Tamano-Shata first came in for a job interview, the Channel 1 staff realized that he was truly gifted. “We immediately realized she had immense talent, knowledge and analytical abilities. I've always known she'd make it to politics; Pnina is a person with great social awareness and a will to make a difference,” he told Ynet. Yair Lapid, the Yesh Atid Party’s founder and head, was also a journalist for many years.
• But Tamano-Shata felt that working in journalism constrained her. "When you work for the media you have to remain objective, and I often wanted to take an active part. I remember they wanted me to cover the big protest, against racism toward Ethiopians, in Kiryat Malachi. Other journalists would have seized the opportunity, but I chose to take the day off and protest with the people."
• She wants to work to promote and pass anti-discrimination and affordable housing legislation.
• Tamano-Shata got offers from several political parties that wanted her on their Knesset lists. But she turned all but Yesh Atid down. “I got offers from big parties, but I always felt they wanted me as a fig leaf. After I met Yair [Lapid] and heard from him about his social agenda, I realized that Yesh Atid was where I needed to be; it is where I can make a difference."
• She believes that she haqs a special responsibility that other Knesset Members do not have. "I realize the weight of the responsibility I hold. An entire community of some 150,000 people looks up to me as their hope. They expect me to bring about change and fight racism and discrimination, which both unfortunately still exist in Israeli society. I think we need to exhibit zero tolerance to discriminatory institutions, regardless of whether they discriminate against Ethiopians, Arabs, or anyone else. There is a large percentage of people with degrees in the [Ethiopian] community who struggle to find work in their own profession; there are still schools who don’t admit children because of their race; and the Rabbinate still makes things hard for the Ethiopian community. We need to amend existing legislation and at the same time work to legislate new laws to help society be more egalitarian."