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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The Interior Ministry will continue examining the eligibility for immigration of some 3,000 Falash Mura after the cabinet agreed Wednesday night to revise a section of the 2009 Economic Arrangements Bill aimed at canceling a previous decision on the matter because the Treasury believes the process to be too costly.
However, while the current government also added a specific timeline for the controversial community aliya from Ethiopia, advocates for Falash Mura immigration stopped short of calling the turnaround a victory because there are still thousands of people waiting anxiously in Gondar for permission to come to Israel.
"I was very happy to hear that the Treasury's plan to cancel the [cabinet] decision from last September was not accepted by the government, but the current decision does not provide a solution to all 8,700 people who are currently waiting in Gondar to make aliya," Avraham Neguise, executive director of the political advocacy organization South Wing to Zion and a vocal supporter of the Falash Mura - Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity more than a century ago and who are recognized as Jews by both of Israel's chief rabbis.
"I really hope that the new government will now take control of this issue and bring it to an end as soon as possible," Neguise said.
He added: "Our main hope is that the new Interior Minister [Eli Yishai of Shas], who is supportive of this issue and really understands the situation, will be able to undo some of the damage done by previous interior minister [Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit]."
Two weeks ago, The Jerusalem Post reported that as part of the Economic Arrangements Bill, the Treasury planned to revoke the decision made nine months ago by the Olmert government to check the eligibility for aliya of an initial 3,000 Falash Mura, many of whom have family living in Israel. Local Ethiopian leaders and their supporters both here and in the US said that such a move would likely end aliya from Ethiopia.
On Wednesday, the government decided not to endorse the Finance Ministry's recommendations and revised the section of the bill dealing with Falash Mura aliya. The change also included a timeline, with immigrants already living in Israel having until July 31 to petition the Interior Ministry on behalf of their relatives in Ethiopia. In turn, the Interior Ministry has been given until the end of September to review all the petitions.
"What happened Wednesday retained the current status quo," said Joseph Feit, former president of the North American Coalition on Ethiopian Jewry, which provides aid and resources to those waiting in Gondar and has been actively lobbying the government on this issue. "We just hope now that this will give more power to the task force and that each application is checked as quickly as possible."
Also on Wednesday, the Knesset's Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, headed by Israel Beiteinu MK Lia Shemtov, held an emergency hearing on the issue and urged the government to continue its eligibility checks until all 8,700 people have been assessed.
Advocates for the community say that all these people appear in a 1999 census - compiled by Rabbi Menachem Waldman, a member of the Public Council for Ethiopian Jews, and former Interior Ministry director-general David Efrati - on which the ministry basis its criteria for this aliya.