Ethiopian-born Minister of Immigrant Absorption Pnina Tamano-Shata is at war with Israel’s National Security Council over the fate of a group of potential newcomers from Ethiopia and whether or not they are Jewish and face real danger in their home country.
A document objecting to continued Aliyah from Ethiopia was presented at a National Security Council Sunday night debate on the issue, which included a representative of the Foreign Ministry. The document, which had been sent to the directors of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Interior Ministry, and the Absorption Ministry, was titled, “The status of individuals awaiting clarification regarding the possibility of immigration to Israel from Ethiopia.” The document argued that “apparently, close to ten thousand people are now waiting to be clarified for Aliyah. Out of them, there are some 700 Tigray Jews, and as the preoccupation with the subject increases, the numbers will rise. The numbers always rise.”
Tigray is the northernmost regional state in Ethiopia. Thousands of Ethiopian Jews have arrived in Israel from Tigray and those 700 who reportedly remained are under a severe threat to their lives from attacks of the government in Addis Ababa against local rebel groups. Minister Tamano-Shata demands that every last one of the Ethiopians who are awaiting Aliyah must be brought to Israel, and threatens a coalition crisis, warning that she “cannot continue to sit in government while Ethiopian Jews are massacred.”
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked opposes the move, claiming that most of the Ethiopians who recently arrived in Israel are not Jews and that they were not in real mortal danger. Shaked relies, among other things, on an examination by the Population Authority, according to which most of the recent newcomers came at the request of a private Israeli citizen of Ethiopian extraction who made Aliyah in 1996 and who asked to bring over his Christian ex-wife, his non-Jewish children, several individuals who claim to be his children, and the non-Jews who ran his business in Ethiopia.
The NSC document argues that “there is a threat of a flow of non-Jews wishing to take advantage of the economic reality in Israel,” and that “there is no threat to the population awaiting the clarification of their Judaism.”
According to the NSC, there is an “exaggeration of the reality in order to create pressure on senior government echelons. Bringing thousands of people to Israel without clarification of their Jewish status is a precedent-setting and dangerous demographic mistake.”
Tamano-Shata was born in Wuzaba, a village located near the city of Gondar in the Amhara Region of northern Ethiopia. Her family immigrated to Israel when she was three during Operation Moses, the evacuation of the Ethiopian Jews from Sudan. She, her five brothers, and her father were among some 7,000 Ethiopian Jews airlifted by the Mossad to Israel between November 1984 and January 1985. Her mother followed several years later.