The government needs to speed up the aliya process of Ethiopian Jews, but it must also be vigilant about accepting only those who fit the already existing immigration criteria, Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) Executive Director Natan Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.
"My gut feeling is that it is very bad for this aliya to be moving so slowly," said Sharansky, who is very familiar with the controversial Ethiopian aliya from his days as interior minister in 1999-2001.
"We need to accelerate this process as quickly as possible, but of course we also have to carefully check who is eligible to make aliya under the Law [of Entry]," he continued, adding that once the checks were completed, large scale immigration from Ethiopia must end and the existing compounds in Gondar, where many people still wait to make aliya, must be disbanded.
Estimates put at 8,700 the number of Falash Mura - Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors were forcibly converted to Christianity a century ago - still waiting to be checked by Israel's Interior Ministry for their eligibility to make aliya. Many of them already have relatives living in Israel.
"There is no doubt that this is a humanitarian crisis," said Sharansky. "However, this does not mean we have to open the gates to the [whole] of Africa."
Sharansky cited the contradictory policies of successive Israeli governments in recent years over whether the remaining Falash Mura should or should not be allowed to immigrate. Even earlier this year there was a bid to end aliya from Ethiopia when a section of the 2009 Economic Arrangements Bill claimed that it was too costly.
Pressure from the pro-Falash Mura lobby in Israel, however, caused this section to be dropped from the bill and since then there has been renewed interest in speeding up the immigration of the remaining 8,700.
Last week the Knesset's State Comptroller's Committee chairman MK Yoel Hasson heard from that lobby and from Israeli Ethiopians who have relatives still living in Gondar. Hasson called on those facilitating the aliya process, including JAFI, to get it kick-started and wrapped up as soon as possible.
Sharansky said Tuesday that JAFI was ready and prepared to implement a large-scale aliya from Ethiopia if the government so requested.
"We are ready to do it and we will do it quickly," he said.