Ethiopian demonstration Jerusalem 311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Up to 1,000 Ethiopian-born immigrants protested Sunday opposite the Immigrant
Absorption Ministry over a recent government recommendation to reduce the number
of new olim arriving each month.
The immigrants, or Falash Mura
(Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity more than a century
ago) – many of whom still have family members living in Ethiopia – called on the
government to keep the commitment it made a year ago to wind up aliya from the
East African Nation within the next three years.
The protesters’ central
demand is for the ministry to open additional centers to absorb the new
immigrants so they can continue to arrive here at a rate of 200 people per
While the government – which has appointed the Jewish Agency For
Israel (JAFI) to facilitate this final phase of mass Ethiopian immigration – has
fulfilled its annual quota, bringing in some 2,400 new immigrants, it is also
under pressure to make sure the socioeconomic pressures of absorbing this
community do not become too great.
Along those lines, an interministerial
commission made a recommendation this past summer to reduce the number of new
immigrants from 200 per month to 110 per month, starting from November 15 this
year until March 1, 2015.
Headed by former Finance Ministry
director-general Haim Shani, the panel was initially tasked with finding a
solution for hundreds of immigrants who couldn’t afford housing outside the
The reduction, wrote the commission in its final
summation, “will allow us to keep up with the housing demands and other
absorption services such as education [and] welfare in order to absorb them in
the optimum way.”
The Prime Minister’s Office has pointed out that under
the government’s decision last year, Shani’s commission had permission to extend
the process for an additional year if a vital reason were shown.
interview with The Jerusalem Post, Ethiopian MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) discounted
arguments by the commission, saying instead that “the government is always
looking for a reason not to move forward with Ethiopian immigration.”
said it was unprecedented that there were more than 4,000 people, all recognized
by the State of Israel as Jews, simply waiting in the Ethiopian province of
Gondar to immigrate.
Some will be forced to stay there for up to three
years before being brought to Israel.
“It should not be a problem at
all,” said Molla. “I do not understand why the government does not provide more
housing options for the more veteran immigrants to move into.”
threatened that if the government moved ahead with the recommendation to reduce
the immigrant flow, the community would have no choice but to step up its mass
During Sunday’s demonstration, Immigrant Absorption Minister
Sofa Landver agreed to meet with the protest leaders in an attempt to calm fears
that the new recommendation was meant to halt Ethiopian aliya
Despite Landver’s efforts, however, protesters became
emotional Sunday, and several people attempted to enter the fenced-off area
surrounding the ministry, according to the protest organizers.
addition, one of the protest leaders, Dr. Avraham Neguise, executive director of
the South Wing to Zion organization, was arrested for not adequately
coordinating the event with police.
Meanwhile, the cabinet gave its
approval Sunday to establish a monument on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl to
commemorate the approximately 4,000 members of the Ethiopian community who
perished en route to Israel.
The memorial, which will cost some NIS 2
million, will display the names of men, women and children who died after
suffering food and water shortages and diseases contracted on their
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a statement: “I know
that the way to the State of Israel and absorption in it has not always been
easy, and even today members of the community are finding certain things
difficult, and we are trying to help them.”
However, he added,
“integration has been impressive, and it is encouraging; it gives essence to
this idea of returning to Zion and combining the absorption of the tribes of
Israel. We are working to implement the desire to absorb here the rest of the
Ethiopian Jewish community. It warms my heart to see the faith of thousands of
years being realized.”