Tsega Melaku Becomes the First Woman and the First Ethiopian Director of Reshet Aleph, an Israel Broadcasting Authority Radio Channel

October 12, 2008

Ethiopian-Israeli Tsega Melaku, 2021. Still image from Annual Scholarship Distribution Ceremony 2021, Keren Hanan Aynor.

On October 12, 2008, Tsega Melaku became the first woman and first Ethiopian director of Reshet Aleph, an Israel Broadcasting Authority radio channel. Born in Gondar, Ethiopia, in 1968, Melaku moved to Israel alone in 1984, at age sixteen, during Operation Moses. Operation Moses was a covert Israeli operation to evacuate Jews from Ethiopia, via Sudan, during a civil war and widespread famine. When Melaku arrived in Israel, she was pressured to change her name from Tsega to Oshra, as both names mean happiness. However, Melaku refused, her first act of defiance against a discriminatory and racist Israel.

Melaku enrolled at Bar Ilan University to study social sciences. When she walked into her first class, the professor suggested she was in the wrong place because Ethiopians were “supposed” to work as janitors in Israel. While in university she began to work at Kol Israel’s Amharic radio station, REKA, eventually becoming the director.

Melaku helped lead the Ethiopian “blood protest” in 1996, when it was revealed that Magen David Adom (Israel’s ambulance service) disposed of all blood donations from Ethiopians because of fear that they carried AIDS and other infectious diseases. The “blood affair” led to massive demonstrations, with protestors holding signs like “one people, one blood.” When the protestors threw sticks at the police, the police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. The government opened an official inquiry, which concluded that they should continue rejecting Ethiopian blood but should tell potential donors the truth, rather than taking and disposing of donations. 

On October 12, 2008, Melaku was selected to direct Reshet Aleph, becoming its first woman and first Ethiopian director. Her contract was for three years. Although the director's contracts were generally renewed, Melaku’s was not; when she asked why, she was told she had a “human relations problem.” Melaku attributes her dismissal to racism and the criticism Reshet Aleph received for hiring an Ethiopian woman at all. Melaku returned to work at REKA and filed a lawsuit against Reshet Aleph for wrongful termination. She was awarded 330,000 NIS (approximately $95,000).

In 2014, Melaku published an autobiography titled Not in Our School, a referenceto the prejudice she faced while trying to enroll her son in a prestigious school. The school had advertised that it had open spots, but when Melaku inquired she was told the spots were only for families who already had children at the school. When Melaku confronted the school, they admitted they did have open spots. Her son enrolled, becoming the first Ethiopian to attend.

In 2015, Melaku was placed in the third slot of the Kulanu party’s Knesset (Israeli Parliament) list, practically guaranteeing her a seat in the 20th Knesset. Unfortunately, due to a procedural error, she was unable to run for the seat and did not pursue politics further.

 

Sources

Alona Friedman-Sahar. “‘מי שלא רוצה אותי, יראה אותי במקום גבוה יותר’” [‘Whoever doesn’t want me, will see me in a higher place’]. Globes, June 5, 2015. https://www.globes.co.il/news/article.aspx?did=1001040278.

Lex, Ofra. “גם אחרי תואר ראשון ושני ותפקידים בכירים ברשות השידור, אנשים ברחוב עדיין מציעים לצגה מלקו עבודות ניקיון” [Even after a bachelor's and master's degree and senior positions in the Broadcasting Authority, people on the street still offer Tsega Melaku cleaning jobs]. Arutz Sheva, December 1, 2016. https://www.inn.co.il/news/334741.

Pileggi, Tamar. “Ethiopian-born Tsega Melaku joins Kahlon’s party.” Times of Israel, January 11, 2015. https://www.timesofisrael.com/ethiopian-born-tsega-melaku-joins-kahlons-party/.

“צגה מלקו: ׳אני צריכה להיות לבנה כדי שיגוננו עלי׳. ראיון” [Tsega Melaku: ‘I Have to be White to be Stood Up For’. Interview]. Megafon, May 6, 2013. https://megafon-news.co.il/asys/archives/146768.

Melaku, Tsega. לא בבית ספרנו [Not in Our School]. Israel: Steimatzky, 2014.

 

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Tsega Melaku Becomes the First Woman and the First Ethiopian Director of Reshet Aleph, an Israel Broadcasting Authority Radio Channel ." (Viewed on April 22, 2024) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/oct/12/2008/tsega-melaku-becomes-first-woman-and-first-ethiopian-director-reshet-aleph>.