Fears over the integration of thousands of Ethiopian immigrants now appears to
be the latest obstacle to winding up what the government just over a year ago
proudly touted as the “final phase” of mass aliya from the East African
Concerns over absorption problems were expressed last week in a
response by the State Attorney’s Office to a High Court petition submitted
recently by the Public Council for Ethiopian Jews. The petition, which will
receive a full court response in March, was an attempt by supporters of
Ethiopian aliya to stop the government from breaking its previous promises and
cutting back on the number of immigrants arriving here each month.
though it committed in November 2010 to bring some 7,846 Ethiopians of Jewish
descent to Israel within the next three years, the government appears to have
readily adopted recommendations made by former Finance Minister director General
Haim Shani to reduce the flow of people from 200 per month to 110, and extend
the program from three years to four.
Originally the treasury cited lack
of space in Jewish Agency for Israel-run absorption centers and the housing
crisis as reasons for slowing down the rate of aliya, but in its response to the
High Court petition, the State Attorney’s Office admitted that housing was not
the obstacle. Rather, it blamed the deeper problems of ongoing integration and
“As someone who has been actively involved in negotiating
with the Prime Minister’s Office not to reduce the numbers, I can tell you that
the only reason ever discussed to cut back on the aliya was the forecasted lack
of space in absorption centers,” commented Joseph Feit, former president of the
North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, a charity that previously ran the
services for those waiting to immigrate.
Feit, who is among those who
filed the High Court petition, added that by not keeping its previous
commitment, the government is showing a lack of “Zionist, Jewish and
humanitarian values unprecedented in Israel’s history.” He explained that by
reducing the numbers, the government would now not be able to make good on its
promise to end mass aliya from Ethiopia by March 2014, but will be forced to
extend it by another year.
“By extending it the government is taking
millions of dollars from US Jewry without even consulting them,” said
According to Feit, and estimates from the Jewish Agency, which now
runs pre-aliya operations in the Ethiopian city of Gondar, roughly 4,200 Falash
Mura (Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity more than a
century ago) will have official government approval for aliya by the end of next
However, because of the slow flow of immigration they will now
have to stay longer than anticipated in Ethiopia before commencing their journey
Conditions for those waiting in Gondar are harsh, mainly
because their temporary prealiya status makes it impossible for them to find
stable work, and until they are in the final stages of the immigration process,
those waiting receive little financial support.
Following a visit to
Gondar last month, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and director of the
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which is one of the main
funders of this final phase of aliya, decided to provide extra funds so that
each approved family will receive food in the months leading up to their
departure to Israel.
On Monday, Eckstein told The Jerusalem Post:
seen first-hand the harsh conditions and dangers to which the people there are
exposed to on a daily basis. The Falash Mura, who were recognized by the Israeli
government as eligible for aliya, should be treated like our own flesh and
blood, yet they are living in inhumane conditions,” he said, emphasizing, “they
are better off living in Israel, even with all the problems here, than in the
conditions they face over there.”
Eckstein also pointed out that previous
Israeli governments did all they could to save Jews in distress.
what Zionism is all about. We call on the government to reverse this poor
decision and to end this ongoing issue once and for all,” said Eckstein. “We
will assist the government in any way we can with absorption efforts here in
In response to an inquiry from the Post,
a spokesman for the
Prime Minister’s Office explained that the government had decided that between
110 and 170 people would be allowed to make aliya per month.
added: “Each year, the rate of aliya is determined in accordance with the number
of places available in the absorption centers. A review is currently being
conducted concerning the rate of aliya from March till August 2012, with an
intention of increasing it, and in accordance with the number of available
The Falash Mura were officially recognized in 2002 as part of
the Jewish people by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and they make aliya under
a special clause in the Law of Entry.
In order to be eligible for
immigration, community members must be able to show a matrilineal connection to
Judaism, have direct relatives already living in Israel and appear on a 1999
survey of Ethiopian Jewry conducted by former director general of the Interior
Ministry, David Efrati.
The immigrants must also undergo a conversion to
Judaism upon arrival in Israel.