(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
American Jewish groups who lobby for increased immigration of the Falash Mura to Israel are doing so "to earn money, collect donations and justify their existence," but are unwilling to bring these Ethiopians to their own communities in America, Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim said on Wednesday.
In a thinly-veiled accusation of racism, Boim asserted that these American Jewish groups, "who knew how to bring other Jews to their communities [in America] and spent a lot of money doing so, don't behave that way with Ethiopian Jews. So they shouldn't come here and tell us what to do and how to act on this issue."
Boim made the accusation in a Wednesday speech on the Knesset floor in which he expressed opposition to a bill to expedite the immigration of the Ethiopian community, which converted to Christianity under duress more than a century ago and converts back to Judaism upon aliya.
The bill, which would speed up the immigration to Israel of some 9,000 Falash Mura, passed its first reading despite Boim's opposition, receiving support in the plenum from 43 Knesset members from across the political spectrum.
Likud MK Michael Eitan, who sponsored the bill, said Israel did not have the right to exist if it tried to prevent the aliya of Jews in distress.
"This legislation is a direct result of the inadequate progress of the government in dealing with the Falash Mura who remain in Ethiopia," said Eitan, adding that he planned to set up a committee that would force the government to take action.
Exactly a year ago, the government announced that immigration from Ethiopia would be over by this summer. In January, it recalled the Interior Ministry representative stationed in the region. However, members of Israel's Ethiopian community claim there are still thousands of people remaining in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar who fit the criteria for immigration but who have not been checked. This group of people has already been determined as Jewish by both of Israel's chief rabbis and many already have close relatives living here.
Orlee Guttman, director of operations for the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ), denied American Jews were unwilling to bring the Ethiopian Jewish community to the United States.
"They are not cattle and not children," said Guttman. "They've had dreams of Zion for thousands of years. Historically, they have gathered around the Israeli embassy in Addis [Ababa] or the Israeli consulate in Gondar, often on the urging of their families in Israel. They want to go to Israel."
Guttman would not address Boim's accusation, except to note that "it seems that some people in Israel have budgetary concerns about bringing Ethiopian Jews. Since when have budgetary concerns determined whether or not we're going to bring Jews to Israel? When has Israel ever before put a quota [as has been placed on Falash Mura aliya] on a foreign Jewish community?"