Members of the Jewish Ethiopian community attend a prayer service at the HaTikvah Synagogue in Gondar, northern Ethiopia, September 30, 2016..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Within four weeks the government will approve the immigration of 1,000 Ethiopians residing in Gondar and Addis Ababa, the Interior Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office told the State Control Committee on Monday.
Director general of the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority Shlomo Mor-Yosef and deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office Udi Praver said they submitted an urgent request to the Government Secretariat to discuss the matter at a cabinet meeting. They informed MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union), chair of the State Control Committee, that approval would be given within four weeks for funds in the 2018 budget.
In 2017, 1,308 Ethiopians immigrated to Israel, in accordance with the latest cabinet decisions on the issue, which state that up to 9,000 Ethiopians could be brought to Israel by the end of 2020. A new cabinet decision is needed to allow for continued aliya from Ethiopia this year.
Ethiopians in the group waiting to immigrate are known as Falash Mura, the name given to those members of the Beta Israel community in Ethiopia and Eritrea who – under compulsion and pressure from missionaries – converted to Christianity during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Since their ancestors converted to another religion, they are not covered by the Law of Return, which grants the right to immigrate to Israel and gain citizenship to anyone with a Jewish grandparent. Instead, they are brought according to the Law of Entry and are required to convert to Judaism once they are here.
In attendance at Monday’s meeting were Israelis of Ethiopian origin who are serving in the IDF while their siblings remain in Ethiopia, having waited many years at transit camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa for approval to immigrate to Israel.
Shlomo Mor-Yosef, CEO of the Interior Ministry’s Population Registry, said that among the 1,000 people who have been approved are parents of those who are already in Israel, as well as their children.
“As for parents and children who immigrated to Israel, but some of their children remained in Ethiopia, they are not included in the quota,” said Mor-Yosef. That means, he said, that at this stage, 2,433 siblings of 2,191 Ethiopians who are already in Israel have still not been approved for aliya.
“This list is a preliminary list we made because of the urgency of the issue,” Mor-Yosef said. “There is nothing to prevent us from extending it further, and we will reach higher numbers [of people] who can immigrate, in accordance with the budgetary framework.”
Belayneh Endeshaw, an IDF soldier in the elite Duvdevan special-operations-force unit and an activist in the Struggle for Ethiopian Aliya Group, said: “I serve the country and at the same time fight it. For what? So that I won’t be able to be with my sisters?”
Yacimovich noted that even the approval of the 1,000 immigrants was done under heavy pressure exerted by her and MKs David Amsalem, Eli Alalouf, Avraham Neguise and Meir Cohen.
The question remained, she said, why the other 6,000 Ethiopians waiting for aliya are subjected to this ongoing “torture.”
“This is not a budget issue...,” she said. “There are many elements in the government that are not interested in bringing them because they do not see them as Jews, while no one is rummaging through the tzitzit of immigrants from other countries.”
Yacimovich added that the panel will monitor the matter closely.
The advocacy group Struggle for Ethiopian Aliya emphasized that 1,000 is only a fraction of the number still waiting in Ethiopia.
“Furthermore, tomorrow will be the first voting on the 2019 budget; the immigration for next year is not in the budget readings and no decision regarding 2019 was brought forward today,” the group said in statement. “We are not satisfied with the status of the issue and will go to protest on March 12, along with a solidarity event in the Jewish community in Addis and Gondar.”