The anger of Ethiopian Jews

Ethiopian Jews are angry, and it's not just because their blood has been discarded by Israeli blood banks.

They're angry, they say, because they're facing a kind of Israeli racism that has put their children in segregated, lower-quality schools and their families in poor-quality housing.

Ethiopian immigrants have been frustrated from the start, trying to learn a new language and adjusting to a culture that is dramatically different from their own. Like former Soviet immigrants, many still face unemployment and housing shortages.

Unlike the former Soviets, however, Ethiopians Jews are blacks in a primarily white country, and they come from a land where access to education and health care was often limited.

Life in their new land hasn't been easy.

The recent revelation about the way Israel has treated Ethiopians' donated blood has done nothing to help ease these immigrants into Israeli life, of course.

By discarding the blood because it's more likely to carry the HIV virus than other blood, Israel has humiliated the Ethiopians — made a minority group feel even more marginalized than they apparently already felt.

Obviously, in the interest of public health, Israel needs to monitor its blood supply. But officials could have held the Ethiopian blood for the six months it takes for the HIV virus to surface, and then kept the HIV-negative blood.

At the very least, officials could have talked openly with the Ethiopian community about the fact that their blood is "high risk." Secretly throwing out the blood was not the way to handle the situation.

The Ethiopians' outrage is understandable, and Israel has a responsibility to respond to their concerns promptly. Prime Minister Shimon Peres deserves credit for offering the government's immediate apologies to the Ethiopian community and commissioning an inquiry.

But the situation warrants more than an apology.

Israel needs to use the uproar as an opportunity to listen to the concerns and frustrations of the Ethiopian community, and to work with those immigrants to alleviate their problems. If that opportunity is missed, the potential for future clashes will remain dangerously high.

The country cheered when airlifts rescued nearly all Ethiopian Jews from their troubled land. It was an amazing and historic event. But much of the real work has yet to be done.