(photo credit: THE STRUGGLE FOR ETHIOPIAN ALIYAH)
Hundreds of protesters from the Ethiopian community in Israel gathered in front of the home of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Their campaign, using the slogan "let my people go," was organized ahead of the meeting of the special ministerial committee on the issue of aliya from Ethiopia set to take place on June 18.
One of the protesters on Tuesday was Sintayehu Shifaraw, runner up of the International Bible Quiz, whose mother and siblings are still waiting for permission to immigrate to Israel.
"I received an identity card from Deri's ministry, but what about my 8,000 brothers?" Shifaraw, who was granted permission to make aliya in April, asked.
Shifaraw’s father, Rata, immigrated to Israel with his second wife and seven of his children in 2001. But two of Sintayehu's siblings, whose mother is Rata’s first wife, were not approved by the Interior Ministry.
"Separated families, along with activists pressuring the government to allow Ethiopia's remaining Jews to make aliya to Israel, will organize weekly demonstrations," said a statement to the media released by the protest organizers last week.
Shifaraw, who was a counselor in the local Bnei Akiva chapter in Addis Ababa, is a member of the Falash Mura, Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors in the 19th and 20th centuries converted to Christianity under compulsion and pressure from missionaries.
While the government decided in 2015 to bring the remaining members of the community who are eligible for aliya to Israel, that plan is currently in limbo. The first group of 1,300 people arrived in Israel in 2017 but approximately 8,000 more Ethiopian Jews are currently still waiting to be granted aliyah rights.
Because their ancestors converted to another religion, the Falash Mura are not covered by the Law of Return, which grants the right to immigrate and gain Israeli citizenship to anyone with a Jewish grandparent. They are brought to Israel under the Law of Entry and are required to convert to Judaism once in Israel.
“I am nothing without my community,” Shifaraw said emphatically, who sees himself as the emissary of all the Ethiopians awaiting aliya.Tamara Zieve contributed to this report.