Netanyahu, let our people come!

We must not rest until Ethiopian Israelis are all reunited with their loved ones from Gondar and Addis Ababa.

By
December 20, 2011 22:40
Dov Lipman, Falash Mura

Lipman, Falash Mura 311. (photo credit: (Courtesy, Dov Lipman))

It would be hard to overstate the travails that Ethiopian Jews endured in order to fulfill their centuries-old dream of returning to Jerusalem, in Zion. They have been persecuted, survived famine and civil war, and thousands of people have waited for years in transit camps in Gondar with little food, no medical care and in constant danger of anti-Semitic attacks by local non-Jews. Even for Ethiopians who make it to Israel, aliya to Israel often does not bring their ordeal to a close. Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis still have sisters, brothers, children and parents stuck in camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa, waiting to immigrate to Israel.

The issue dates back to the aftermath of Operation Solomon in 1991 when 14,000 people were airlifted to Israel in a dramatic 48-hour rescue operation. But at the same time, an equal number were left behind to cling to the hope that their dream of making it to their homeland would soon come true. Year after year passed, controversy after controversy erupted in Israel about the Falash Mura and their precise halachic (Jewish legal) status as Jews because their ancestors converted to Christianity more than 100 years ago.

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Mainly, however, the people waited. Fourteen thousand Jews in Gondar and another 1,000 or so in Addis Ababa continue to languish in transit camps.

WHY HAVE they been left behind? The Israeli government decided in November 2010 not to bring the people remaining in these camps to Israel, and instead to concentrate only on the approximately 6,000 people who were included in a 1999 Interior Ministry census as Ethiopians who have been recognized by Israel’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar as Jews.

As an Orthodox Jew, I would ordinarily be thrilled by an Israeli government decision to make Jewish law a component of official policy. But Rabbi Yosef Hadana, the chief rabbi of the Ethiopian community in Israel, has ruled that the people waiting for aliya are halachically Jewish, as has the Chief Kes of all Ethiopian Jewry.

Even if our rabbinic authorities had not ruled in favor of these “refuseniks,” simple logic and human mercy dictates that parents, children and siblings who were granted the right to immigrate to Israel should be allowed to bring their family members as well. Has that not been the case with so many non-Jewish Russians, who have been free to immigrate to Israel together with their Jewish spouses who immigrate under the Law of Return?

The painful, sharp question must be asked: Why has the Israeli government suddenly developed such a strong tie to Jewish law and decided to strand thousands of people in transit camps in Ethiopia? Does the humane tenet of family reunification not dictate the immediate rescue of the remaining Falash Mura?

Sadly, I have come to the unhappy conclusion that there is only one, very depressing answer. While it is completely false to say that “Zionism is racism,” there is no way to avoid the sad truth that many Zionists are racists.

This theory was given significant support in recent weeks. In November, the Hebrew-language Yediot Aharonot newspaper reported a shocking story about the mayor of Beit Shemesh, a member of the Shas party, who was forced to explain why his family runs segregated nursery schools for Ethiopian children.

Caught red-handed, he described Ethiopian children as “small fish” who mustn’t be introduced into the aquarium until they are ready to contend with the “large fish.” A few days later a middle school teacher was reported to have defended the mayor, asking students, “What is wrong with separate nurseries for the Ethiopians? I thought the blacks want to remain with the blacks?”

“Small fish?” “Blacks enjoy segregation?” Yes, racism is alive and well in Israel.

While the Israeli government hides behind “Jewish law” to excuse its inaction and refusal to bring the remaining Falash Mura to Israel despite rabbinic rulings to the contrary, the truth has been exposed. A shocking number of Israeli citizens and government leaders simply do not want 15,000 more Ethiopians in Israel.

To them, the Falash Mura are little more than “small fish” and the “blacks” who have a difficult time acclimating themselves to Israeli society and create difficult challenges for our schools, local municipalities and the national government. They present difficult challenges that these staunch Zionists would prefer not to have to address.

As Jews and as a society that claims to support human rights, and simple human mercy, we must act immediately to bring the remaining Falash Mura to Israel.

Time is of the essence: The longer the pleas and tears of Ethiopian Israelis go unanswered, the deeper the lasting stain on our collective Jewish identity and moral standing as a Jewish state.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, please listen to your human heart and to your Zionist ethos. Don’t let racism stand in the way of what is right. The State of Israel prides itself on being a haven for Jews who need a refuge, as well as a home for Jews who want Judaism to infuse every aspect of their lives. The gates of this country must be open as well to Jews who were born with dark skin, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that they are able to take advantage of this special country.

Please, Mr. prime minister. Please. Let our people come.

The writer is a rabbi, author and the director of the English Speakers Division of Am Shalem, the new political movement headed by MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem. His website is wwww.rabbilipman.com

Lenore Levin contributed to this article. The Jerusalem Post regrets the omission.


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