Falash Mura 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
One of the central funders of what last year was touted as the “historic final
episode of aliya from Ethiopia” expressed great disappointment Tuesday over a
new government policy that will slow down the pace of immigration from the North
African nation and stall the process for an additional year.
RELATED:Gov't failures in Falash Mura immigration decriedNGO slams policy putting Ethiopian olim in specific areas
“I am very
disappointed by this new decision,” said Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, president and
founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), which has
contributed more than $2.5 million to the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI)-led
operation to facilitate the final phase of aliya for some 8,000 Falash Mura –
Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity more than a century
The new policy contradicts a decision announced exactly a year ago by the
cabinet to bring the immigrants to Israel at a rate of 200 per month, ending
organized aliya from Ethiopia by March 2014.
In contrast, an
inter-ministerial committee, which was headed by former Finance Ministry
director-general Haim Shani, has recommended to slow the rate to 110 per month,
starting next week, and extending it until March 1, 2015.
had originally been tasked with finding a solution to the housing problem facing
hundreds of Ethiopian immigrants who can’t afford to leave the absorption
centers where they live for the first few years after arriving
“[This] 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. It should be noted that the relevant government agencies should
immediately implement these recommendations, ” wrote Shani in his
Eckstein expressed concern over Shani’s
“If this latest decision is carried out, then people who
are suffering in camps in [the Northern Ethiopian town of] Gondar will have to
stay there even longer and be exposed to all the illnesses and dangers that are
there,” continued Eckstein, who also serves as chairman of JAFI’s Aliya and
“Some of the people have been waiting for up to 10
years to immigrate and it is not fair or right that they are being subjected to
this,” he added.
“We have been caught off guard by this sudden
Where did the right to change it suddenly come from?” asked
Eckstein, who pointed out that as a donor he was willing to work with the
government to speed up the process to avoid any more setbacks, but added that he
had not even been approached.
Instead, donors such as the IFCJ learned
only recently of the new decision to reduce the flow of immigrants to ease the
socioeconomic burden as the state absorbs them.
In response, an official
from the Prime Minister’s Office pointed out Tuesday night that under the
government’s decision last year the Shani Commission had permission to extend
the process for an additional year if a vital reason was shown.
this, NGOs advocating for the Falash Mura aliya have pointed out that a less
painful solution would be to simply open a few more absorption centers. They
maintain that slowing down the flow of aliya will mean that up to 5,000
immigrants – all of whom hold valid final aliya approvals from the Interior
Ministry – will not be able to immigrate for up to four years.
at a hearing of the Knesset’s Aliya, Absorption and Diaspora Committee on
Tuesday, former Supreme Court judge Meir Shamgar, president of the Public
Committee for Ethiopian Jews, pointed out that the treasury has failed to see
the root of the matter.
“This state was established for the in-gathering
of the exiles and there has already been a government decision on the matter,”
“These people have already been recognized as eligible for
immigration, therefore it does not make sense that the process will take more
than three years to bring them here.”
With this already controversial
aliya facing yet another hurdle, JAFI’s Secretary-General Josh Schwarcz told the
committee there was a serious concern that prolonging this aliya could affect
the agency’s ability to raise funds for an additional year.
So far, JAFI
has raised a total of $7.5m. from various international organizations based on the expectation that
the whole operation will be over in three years.
Under the government’s
decision last year, JAFI was invited to take over providing humanitarian aid and
pre-aliya services, including learning Hebrew and health care, to those waiting