Photo Credit: Courtesy the Knesset
Ethiopian Jews at the Knesset committee debate on their relatives who remained behind

Earlier this year, the Population and Immigration Authority sent the Prime Minister’s Office an official letter stating that an additional 1,000 Ethiopian Jews meet Israel’s criteria for making Aliyah. This was revealed on Monday at a meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee, chaired by MK Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Camp), which was convened to debate the fate of 8,000 Jews who remain stranded in Ethiopia, unable to make Aliyah.

“The positive result of today’s meeting is that we received a very clear commitment to bring those 1,000 Jews to Israel,” MK Yachimovich said. “We heard from the Population and Immigration Authority and the Prime Minister’s Office that the matter will be approved during a Government meeting within a month, and I believe it will be approved. If we see that there are delays, we will call an urgent meeting to expedite matters.”

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Nevertheless, according to Yachimovich, despite this good news, “…it is unacceptable, from a moral and Zionist standpoint, that thousands of Jews remain in transit camps, in poor conditions,” while their qualification as Jews is being examined “with much more thoroughness than in cases of Jews from other countries.”

Yachimovich insisted that all the remaining Ethiopian Jews must be brought to Israel at once. “We are a strong and stable country, we constantly hear that our situation could not be better and how many budget surpluses are in the State’s treasury,” she said, therefore “we have the ability and the means to end this saga, which is creating a deep fissure in the Ethiopian Israeli community.”

Ethiopian Jews at the Knesset committee debate on their relatives who remained behind / Photo credit: Courtesy the Knesset

Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director general of Population and Immigration Authority, told the committee that “there is a question […] regarding the Jewishness of those in Ethiopia, and because of this the State has decided that those who are still in Ethiopia will not make Aliyah under the Law of Return. Since then, we have been dealing with Aliyah ‘quotas.’ I wish to stress that the employees of the Interior Ministry are not racists; we are operating in accordance with the Government’s decision and we do not set the policy.”

MK Avraham Neguise (Likud) said that in Addis Ababa and Gondar, in Ethiopia, there are at least 1,000 people who meet the criteria set by the Government. “A proper examination will find that even more people are eligible,” he said. “At the Interior Ministry there are some 5,000 requests which have yet to be processed.”

A representative of the Struggle for the Aliyah of Ethiopian Jewry organization, a former soldier in the IDF special force Duvdevan unit, told the committee that most of his family made Aliyah together, but two of his sisters remained in Ethiopia.

“They were told they could not make Aliyah with us, and we have been waiting for them since 2007,” he said. “One of my sisters has since been widowed, and my other sister recently married. These are significant events in their lives, but we could not share them because they are not permitted to make Aliyah. Thousands of Jews are waiting there in poor conditions for the Government to bring them to Israel.”

MK Omer Barlev (Zionist Camp) said, “How can the term ‘quotas’ be used when we are dealing with human beings? The country is strong, and it cannot be that a few thousand people can’t be brought to Israel all at once.”

MK Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) said, “There is a population which is waiting in difficult conditions to make Aliyah. Why are they not being brought to Israel under the Law of Return?”

In 1973 the Israeli Ministry of Absorption prepared a comprehensive report on the Jewish-Ethiopian community, which stated that they were foreign in all aspects to the Jewish nation. The report concluded that there was no need to take action in order to help the ethnic group make Aliyah to Israel. This was going to be the end of the “Falasha” hopes to return to Zion. But shortly after the Ministry’s report had been published, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Sephardi chief rabbi, decreed that the Ethiopian Jews are a descendant tribe of Israel.

The chief rabbi also said that giving them a proper Jewish education and the right to immigrate to Israel was a Mitzvah.

This contradicted the position of Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi, who expressed grave doubts as to the validity of their Jewish lineage.

Rabbi Yosef’s ruling resulted in the Law of Return being applied to the Ethiopian community, never mind the Ministry of Absorption’s report and never mind Chief Rabbi Goren. Starting in the mid-1970s, a massive Aliyah effort brought close to 100,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Those who have been refused entry belong largely to the Falash Mura community, which converted to Christianity in the 19th and 20th century, but which maintained familial ties with the Jewish “Beta Israel” community.

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