Members of the Falash Mura community attend a prayer service at the Hatikva Synagogue in Gondar, northern Ethiopia, in 2016.
(photo credit: TIKSA NEGERI / REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday that he has decided to bring another 1,000 members of the Falash Mura community still living in Ethiopia to Israel, and has ordered Interior Minister Arye Deri to draft a government resolution to implement this decision.
Netanyahu’s decision in a meeting of a special ministerial committee comes in response to a strident campaign to allow all remaining members of the community – some 8,200 people – to immigrate en masse to Israel after several years of delays in dealing with the matter.
The decision not to authorize the immigration of the entire remaining community was criticized by activist groups, who said that it constituted a failure to adhere to a commitment in 2015 to bring all of the remaining members of the community to Israel.
The prime minister said he made the decision after consulting with the leading MKs campaigning for the Falash Mura, MKs Avraham Neguise and David Amsallem from his own Likud party.
“I am happy to announce to you that I have decided that we should bring approximately 1,000 members of the [Falash Mura] community whose children are already here,” Netanyahu said, referring to them as “a beloved community which is part of our people and part of our state.”
“This is not a simple decision due to other consequences we have of the community from Ethiopia, but I am determined to do this,” he continued, noting that his government brought 1,300 members of the community to Israel in 2015.
The prime minister said that he has requested Deri, who did not attend the committee meeting, to draw up a government resolution to authorize the immigration, meaning it will require approval in a cabinet vote.
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In 2015, the government passed a resolution which determined to bring all remaining members of the Falash Mura community to Israel, but to date has resulted in the arrival of only the 1,300 Netanyahu mentioned.
The government has already considered the issue three times earlier this year, most recently in June, but failed to make a decision.
Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich, who is strongly supportive of bringing the remaining Falash Mura to Israel, said she did not believe that Netanyahu would fulfill his commitment.
The Committee for the Aliyah of Ethiopian Jews organization strongly denounced Netanyahu’s decision, saying they viewed it not as bringing 1,000 people to Israel but as leaving 7,000 people behind.
“Ethiopian-Israelis who have siblings and children still waiting to immigrate in Ethiopia, responded to this decision with much sorrow, upon understanding that another year would go by separated from their families,” said the organization in response to the decision.
“The government’s foot-dragging of this issue year after year, has caused intense suffering for families who have been separated from one another, in some cases for over 20 years.”
The Falash Mura do not have the right to citizenship under the Law of Return since their ancestors converted, under duress, to Christianity, and are instead granted citizenship under the Law of Entry on the consideration of the Interior Minister, and family reunification principles.
There are approximately 8,200 members of the Falash Mura community in the Ethiopian cities of Addis Ababa and Gondar who are seeking to immigrate to Israel on the basis of family reunification and of being “descendants of Jews.”
Approximately three quarters have parents, children or siblings in Israel and all, according to activists, live as Jews in Addis Ababa and Gondar, and are ready to convert once they reach Israel.
Activists such as Neguise and Rabbi Menachem Waldman have argued that the entire remaining community members determined to have the right to immigrate should be allowed to do so in one mass immigration, so as to resolve the issue once and for all.
Critics of Falash Mura immigration, including the Beta Israel community which never converted, argue that they have no real right to immigrate since they are not Jewish because their ancestors converted to Christianity.
Such critics, including right-wing, conservative national-religious groups, say that allowing continued Falash Mura immigration will lead to an ongoing cycle of family reunification claims.
Activists for the community reject these arguments however, with Neguise and Waldman telling The Jerusalem Post earlier this year
that if all 8,000 people were brought in one immigration they would support closing down the community centers in Addis Ababa and Gondar and ending the mass immigration.
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