LIKUD MK Avraham Neguise listens to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speak yeste.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
ADDIS ABABA – Likud MK Avraham Neguise spoke with tears welling up in his eyes on Thursday about what it meant for him to watch Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address the Ethiopian parliament.
“It was very moving that the prime minister of Israel stood in the parliament of Ethiopia and spoke from the heart about the contributions of Ethiopians in Israel,” said Neguise, currently the country’s only Ethiopian-born MK.
Neguise, who emigrated from Ethiopia in 1985, remembers well when the parliament was not filled with speeches of praise to the Israeli-Ethiopian relationship, as was the case on Thursday, but rather with vitriolic addresses against Israel delivered by those who wanted to find favor with Russia’s leader Leonid Brezhnev, Libya’s strongman Muammar Gaddafi, and Cuba’s dictator Fidel Castro during the country’s communist era.
But on Thursday, Netanyahu, who was greeted by rhythmic applause in the red-carpeted parliament, told both houses of that body that the relationship is only growing.
“Ethiopia is on the rise, Africa is on the rise, and the relationship between us is soaring to new heights,” Netanyahu said.
Neguise was moved because he remembers how Zionism was regularly attacked along with capitalism and imperialism in Ethiopia. “And now the relationship has come to this point,” he said.
Neguise, who was at odds with Netanyahu last year over the government’s failure to implement a promise to bring the 9,000 Jews left in Ethiopia to the country, arrived in Addis on Wednesday, at Netanyahu’s invitation.
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The Likud MK, sitting in his signature white cap in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in Addis where the Netanyahu’s entourage is staying, said he also teared up when he landed in the capital on Wednesday, and on the way to the hotel saw Ethiopian and Israeli flags flying side by side, as well as billboards of Netanyahu and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
The prime minister mentioned his name in his speech to the parliament, holding him up – as well as former Yesh Atid MK Penina Tamanu-Shata, and the current ambassador to the country, Belaynesh Zevadia – as examples of the impact Ethiopian-Israelis are having on society.
Asked how he felt the members of the parliament looked upon him, Neguise said that he sat with spokesman of the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry who said, “We are proud of you, that you reached this level – you are a bridge between Ethiopia and Israel, and this is important.”
No one, Neguise said, views the Jews who left the country to move to Israel as people who abandoned the homeland.
Neguise said he would have liked to see Netanyahu have meet with representatives of the two communities waiting to immigrate to Israel, 3,000 in Addis and 6,000 in Gondar, just as he often meets with the heads of other Jewish communities when he travels abroad.
The government has committed itself to bring 1,300 to Israel. Neguise said 85 percent of the 9,000 waiting have first degree relatives in Israel.
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