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Ethiopian Jewry: Israel's First Jewish Ethiopian-born Ambassador

In February 2012, the Israeli Foreign Ministry for the first time ever appointed a citizen of Ethiopian origin as ambassador. Belaynesh Zevadia, who was the first Ethiopian cadet in the Foreign Ministry, will serve as the Israeli diplomat to Addis Ababa, the capital of the country where she was born and lived in before moving to Israel.

Zevadia, who is 43-years-old, immigrated to Israel at age 17 when thousands of Ethiopian Jews were brought to the country. She studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and has a BA degree in international relations and African studies, and an MA in African studies. In the course of her diplomatic career, she served in Chicago, Illinois and in Houston, Texas.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman welcomed the appointment: “The appointment is a message to the Israeli public, one that is currently fighting racism against Ethiopians,” said Lieberman. “This transmits a message of fighting discrimination. In Israel, people are chosen based on their ability to serve the public, rather than their skin color or sex. I am convinced that she will represent Israel with respect.”

When informed of her appointment as ambassador, Zevadia commented, "I am very proud to be appointed as ambassador, especially as the first Ethiopian Israeli ambassador. I immigrated to Israel as a teenager and I am returning to Ethiopia as an ambassador. It is a great honor for me and my family, and I would like to thank the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Avigdor Liberman, and the staff of the Foreign Ministry for the trust they are placing in me. This is proof that in Israel opportunity is available to everyone, native Israelis and new immigrants alike."

In July 2012, Zevadia met with Israeli President Shimon Peres just ahead of her initial departure for Ethiopia. It was the president’s request to personally wish the new ambassador the best of luck in her important position, and, at the beginning of the meeting stated: "I am very proud of you and your work. You are the first blossom of the Ethiopian community - I am full of pride, and the entire nation congratulates you. You did not receive anything for free; all your achievements are the result of hard work. You stand today facing an historic mission, and there is no doubt that you are the right person to fulfill it successfully, an ambassador who is deeply acquainted with both countries, including the languages, the culture and our shared history.” 

President Peres thanked Ambassador Belaynesh, and stated: "Ethiopia is an extraordinary country. The State of Israel will do all in its power to assist Ethiopia’s economic growth and poverty eradication. I welcome all activities of Israeli companies in Ethiopia."

Sources: Barak Ravid, "Foreign Ministry Names First Israeli of Ethiopian Origin as Ambassador," Haaretz (February 28, 2012).
"Belaynesh Zevadia Appointed Ambassador to Ethiopia," Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (February 28, 2012).
"President Peres Meets with Israel's New Ambassador to Ethiopia, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (July 24, 2012).