Coalition crisis averted: 9000 Ethiopian immigrants to be brought to Israel over 5 years

2 MKs have been absenting themselves from votes in the Knesset plenum for two months, protesting the lack of implementation of a cabinet decision about the immigrants.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
April 7, 2016 21:04
2 minute read.
Jewish Ethiopians ceremony

Ceremony commemorating Jewish Ethiopians who perished while making aliyah to Israel‏.. (photo credit: GIL YOCHANAN/POOL)

 
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Emigration from Ethiopia will resume in June, with 1,300 Falash Mura arriving by the end of the year, and – pending budget approval – 9,000 more by the end of 2020, according to an agreement Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached on Thursday with rebel Likud MKs David Amsalem and Avraham Neguise.

Falash Mura is the name given to those 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.

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Netanyahu met with the MKs night at his office on Wednesday night, and negotiations continued for several hours on Thursday with officials in the Prime Minister’s Office. Amsalem said he and Neguise convinced Netanyahu that the cost of absorbing the immigrants was less than the Finance Ministry claimed.

Under the agreement, funds were budgeted to bring the immigrants to Israel, and to pay for their Judaism conversion program, at the end of which they are eligible to become citizens.

The decision in November was to bring 1,800, which was reduced to 1,300 in the deal with Amsalem and Neguise but is intended to apply to extreme humanitarian cases and therefore may end up being fewer, sources familiar with the agreement said.

They added that budget limitation may prevent future immigration beyond this year.

Amsalem and Neguise have been absenting themselves from votes in the Knesset plenum for two months, protesting the lack of implementation of a cabinet decision about Ethiopian immigration made last November. Without them, the 61-MK coalition failed to pass a Likud-sponsored bill to limit the fund-raising of political organizations, had trouble advancing a bill that would enable the suspension of MKs, and lost a vote about pensions.

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As punishment for their rebellion, the two MKs will be barred from proposing bills, making parliamentary inquiries and speaking in the Knesset plenum for the Knesset summer session that begins on May 23. Amsalem and Neguise agreed to vote in favor of the next state budget.

When a flight of 400 Ethiopian immigrants arrived in August 2013, the Jewish Agency said it had bought every potential Ethiopian immigrant home to Israel. The quasi-governmental agency handed over the keys of the Jewish school in Gondar to the city’s mayor. The school and its facilities were a transit point where 2,500 students studied in preparation for life in Israel.

Neguise protested three years ago that it was premature for the Jewish Agency to end its aliya operation, and that thousands of people were still in Ethiopia who, though Christian, were related to the 135,000 Jewish Ethiopians already living in Israel. Elected to the Knesset on the Likud slate in 2015, Neguise continued his protest calling for the resumption of state-funded immigration and conversion.

Two weeks ago, he led a protest of 1,500 Ethiopian Israelis outside the Prime Minister’s Office during a cabinet meeting.

“This was a Zionist struggle,” Amsalem said. “I thought all along that these people need to come home, and I am glad the prime minister realized it. They won’t be here for this Passover, but as we say at the Seder, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’”

Sam Sokol contributed to this report.

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