Robert Tait, Telegraph (London), March 13, 2013
President Barack Obama will have dinner with the first-ever black Miss Israel when he makes his first visit to the Jewish state as US leader next week.
An advance party of White House officials insisted on inviting Yityish Aynaw, 22, to next Thursday’s gala dinner hosted by Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, after hearing how she became the first Israeli of Ethiopian origin to win the country’s premier beauty queen contest last month.
Her presence among 120 guests who will also include Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, Lt General Benny Gantz, the army chief of staff, and Rueven Rivlin, the Knesset speaker puts her ahead of many more august figures who have failed amid a desperate clamour to secure invites.
The mass circulation Yedioth Ahronot newspaper reported that Ms Aynaw — who emigrated to Israel from Ethiopia with her Jewish grandparents after the death of her mother when she was 12 — would have the chance to exchange pleasantries with the president.
She told the newspaper that Mr Obama’s status as America’s first black president had inspired her to make him the subject of her high school graduation essay.
“For me, he is a role model who broke down barriers, a source of inspiration that proves that every person really can reach any height, regardless of their religion, race or gender,” she said.
The event will have symbolic resonance for Israel’s 120,000-plus Jews of Ethiopian origin, who have protested that they are subject to frequent racial discrimination from their co-religionists.
Last month, the Israeli health ministry announced an investigation into allegations — first made in a television documentary — that Ethiopian women immigrants were forcibly given contraceptive injections to reduce birth rates within the community.
The majority of Israel’s Ethiopian-origin community emigrated to the country, encouraged by the Israeli government, in two successive waves, in 1984 and 1991.
Mr Obama’s desire to meet Ms Awnay is in stark contrast to a snub delivered to Israel’s only settlement university, Ariel, in the West Bank.
Student representatives from the university have been pointedly excluded from the president’s keynote speech at Jerusalem’s International Convention Centre, drawing angry criticism from the pro-settler Jewish Home party, led by Naftali Bennett. Student representatives from all other universities in Israel have been invited.