It is, after all, their very rareness that makes their success so notable.Cathy Freeman took our breath away in Sydney precisely because we understand the seemingly insurmountable odds she scaled to get there. Her victory is so stunning because of the conditions her community has to contend with.
Fortunately for her, her physical appearance meant she was able to transcend the circumstances of her discrimination.
Aynaw, who dreams of becoming a diplomat, comes across as a very astute young woman who will no doubt use this opportunity to effect change.
What she should not be taken for, however, is a sign that Israel's race problem is history.
Author's Update: It has recently been brought to my attention that the Israeli government did not, in fact, admit to injecting Ethiopian immigrants forcibly with a birth control drug.
In February, 21-year-old Yityish Aynaw became the first black Miss Israel.
Born in Ethiopia, Aynaw was orphaned at the age of 12 and her maternal grandparents, already settled in Israel, sent for her and her younger brother. Or it would be, if Israel wasn't still grappling with its own history of discrimination against black Ethiopian Jews since the first planeload were flown into Israel more than three decades ago.Since the 1980s, Israel's Ethiopian community has found itself the target of both opportunistic and systemic discrimination.Living in highly segregated communities, they have complained of being refused jobs, housing, and their children being denied places in schools.To understand both the significance and the hypocrisy of Aynaw's victory it is necessary to look at this history.Suffering from pogroms and persecution in their homeland since the 1970s, the Ethiopian Jewish community was airlifted to the safety of the Jewish state in a series of audacious covert operations beginning in 1984.This video captures a racist rally vilifying Sudanese immigrants with chants such as ‘Sudanese to Sudan, Tel Aviv is for Jews'.Predictably, Aynaw's crowning was also met with jeers and jibes, with some ridiculing her on Facebook as a ‘toffee queen' (a racist play on the Hebrew word ‘yoffee', meaning ‘beauty').It is indeed tempting to take her triumph as a sign that things are changing but her victory is at best purely symbolic and at worst utterly cynical.It is a mistake to assume, when an individual belonging to a marginalised group manages to break through the barriers barring them to success, that suddenly these barriers no longer exist.So what then, to make of Aynaw's crowning as Israel's latest beauty queen (apart, that is, from the irony inherent in treating winning an appearance-based contest as some sort of victory for human rights)?Aynaw is said to have won the judges over by declaring it was simply "time" for a black woman to take the crown.