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Shlomo Mula begins nearly all his speeches with the same sentence: "I walked 800 kilometers from Ethiopia to Sudan." On Monday, Mula will take one more journey, as he is sworn in to the Knesset as the an Ethiopian MK in Israel. "I plan to focus on the Ethiopian community, which has been long-neglected by the political establishment," said Mula. "I come from them and I understand them in a way which allows me to advance their concerns in the best possible way." Mula has been vocal about the issue of "Ethiopian ghettos," which he says many new immigrants are trapped in.
"These are Ethiopian ghettos, like Harlem," said Mula. "There are few opportunities to advance beyond the low-rent immigrant housing that they are segregated into."
These communities, combined with an educational system that often separates Ethiopian students from other classmates, have stunted the ability of new immigrants to join Israeli society.
Some Ethiopian youths have adopted the African-American identity as they see it on television, a culture Mula called "very distant" from their native, mostly rural, background. "I know we can join this society and be active, contributing members," said Mula. However, he adds that clear "racist" elements in Israeli society must change first.
Mula has long been considered one of the leading representatives of the Ethiopian community - both Israel Beiteinu and Kadima tried to recruit him before the last elections. Mula eventually chose Kadima, after holding a meeting with former prime minister Ariel Sharon. "I knew that I wanted to be in politics to change things from within," said Mula.
Thousands of Ethiopian Jews were evacuated to Israel in Israeli airlifts in 1984 and 1991. Of the 80,000 Ethiopians in Israel, only a small percentage have fully integrated into society, according to various polls conducted by Ethiopian NGOs.