Yityish “Titi” Aynaw, the nation’s first Black women to be crowned Miss Israel, says her country has a race problem.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Aynaw, who is an Ethiopian Jew, said: “I’m not ashamed to say that there is racism in Israel; it’s a problem, but it’s a problem that Israel is working on and it’s something that Israel is trying to fix and it’s actually improving.”
Despite her country’s issues, 22-year-old Aynaw admits she hasn’t been personally affected by racism, “I don’t feel the racism, me, exactly,” she explained. “But my family feels it sometimes.”
Aynaw’s position—that Israel is trying to fix its racism problem—doesn’t quite mesh with the experience of others. Recently the Jewish nation has been in the news because of its treatment of immigrants, primarily from Africa.
Last year, Israel admitted that it had given some of its female immigrants birth control shots without their consent, and in January tens of thousands of African immigrants took to the streets to protest their treatment and demand Israel honor their asylum requests.
Like her government, Aynaw—who migrated to Israel when she was 12 under the country’s program to welcome Ethiopian Jews—thinks some African immigrants don’t deserve to be in the country.
“On the one hand we are obligated to give space to refugees and we have given space to refugees,” she said. “On the other hand a lot of the refugees are not refugees of war, they’re economic refugees. You reach a place where there’s actually places in Tel Aviv where you can’t walk around because there’s rape and violence and it’s a bad situation.”
A former military commander, Aynaw thinks Israel needs to walk a fine line between being both fair and firm with to its immigrant population.
“We don’t want people to get hurt,” Aynaw, who hopes to parlay her Miss Israel title into a modeling career, said. “We know what it is to be refugees. We went through the Holocaust, we’ve been refugees our entire lives.”
While I’m proud of Aynaw for her accomplishments, I can’t help but be bothered by how easily she recycles Israel’s propaganda about its African immigrants while it continues to treat them inhumanly.