Addisu Messele (1961- )

Addisu Messele
Addisu Messele
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Addisu Messele, the first person of sub-Saharan African ancestry elected to the Israeli Parliament, was born on June 16, 1961 in the Gondar region of Ethiopia to a Beta Israel (Jewish) family. As a student in the late 1970s, he became an active member of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party and had to flee the country when the communist ruling junta, under Lt. Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, began to persecute this political organization. After crossing the border illegally into Sudan, he joined members of Beta Israel who took a similar rout in anticipation of being secretly transported to Israel. He arrived with them in Israel in 1980. Gaining a BA in social work from Bar Ilan University, Messele became a community worker and activist within the Jewish Ethiopian immigrant community, which after two massive airlifts, in 1984–1985 and 1991, had grown to approximately 55,000.

In January 1996, Messele was one of the most outspoken leaders of the Beta Israel’s painful protest against the Israeli health ministry policy of discarding all blood donations made by members of this immigrant community, due to the high rate of AIDS carriers among them. The publicity this campaign brought him, coupled with a split within the by-far larger Russian immigrant community in Israel, helped him win the candidacy traditionally reserved for an immigrant representative on the Labor-Party electoral list for the 1996 elections. Elected that year, Messele became the first member of Ethiopian descent in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament).  Since then there have been two additional Ethiopian Knesset Members. As a Knesset Member for three years (June 1996 – June 1999), Messele served on its House, Immigration and Absorption, and Labor and Welfare committees.

In March 1999, after loosing the Labor primaries for the upcoming elections, Messele joined two other bolting party members to form a new party, Am Ehad (One Nation). Although a One Nation candidate for the 1999 and 2003 elections, and an active party member since, even after that party merged back into the Labor party, he has not been re-elected to the Knesset.

Messele continues to serve in leadership positions and as a spokesperson for the Ethiopian community in Israel through his chairmanship of the United Ethiopian Jewish Organization. In this capacity, he has been a staunch advocate for bringing to Israel the Falash-Mura—descendents of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He has also served on the directorate of the Heritage Center for Ethiopian Jewry (Bahalachin, “our heritage” in Amharic), and as a member of the Public Council for Immigrants Absorption and the Planning Center for Education of Ethiopian Children in the Ministry of Education. As a public figure well known in Israel, Messele serves on the directorates of non-Ethiopian NGOs as well, such as the Israeli Center for Volunteering and the Sephardic Federation in Israel.