Knesset members grew increasingly frustrated Tuesday as they tried to understand
why the government was continuing to hinder the flow of aliya from Ethiopia,
even after it committed just over a year ago to allow thousands of Ethiopians of
Jewish heritage to immigrate.
Speaking at an emergency hearing of the
Knesset’s Aliya, Absorption and Diaspora Committee, National Union MK Uri Ariel
said that instead of speeding up the aliya of thousands of Ethiopian Jews living
in dire conditions in Gondar, “the government is finding all different reasons
to slow it down.”
Ariel – joined in the meeting by the Knesset’s only
Ethiopian-born MK, Shlomo Molla (Kadima), and session chairwoman MK Yulia
Shamalov- Berkovich (Kadima) – was referring to a recent government policy to
cut back on the number of people arriving each month from 200 to only 110, even
though there are ample room and resources in Jewish Agency-run immigrant
The new policy contrasts with a declaration the
government made in November 2010 to continue the flow of aliya, allowing roughly
8,000 Falash Mura – Ethiopians of Jewish decent – to come to Israel. To date,
6,000 have been officially approved for aliya, and half of those have already
arrived here; the rest continue to live in abject poverty in the Ethiopian city
of Gondar until the government here decides they can come.
that not only should the government continue bringing in 200 people each month,
but numbers should even be increased to get them here sooner,” said Ariel, who
visited Gondar together with Molla last September and viewed the difficult
living conditions of the remaining 3,000 people.
The National Union MK
said the government’s policy of slowing the rate down stood in stark contrast to
the country’s general approach of helping Jews in other troubled areas immigrate
as quickly as possible.
“Anyone who says that it’s not a big deal, that
slowing down the number of people arriving here is okay, does not understand the
situation these people are facing,” he emphasized, asking, “How can we say to a
Jew who is suffering somewhere, just wait a little longer and then you can
While no representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office were present to
answer Ariel, Immigrant Absorption Ministry officials pointed out that under the
original government declaration, the aliya process could be slowed down and even
extended if a vital reason to do so were shown.
The recommendation to
reduce the number of people arriving came last November from an
inter-ministerial committee headed by former Finance Ministry director-general
Among its findings, the committee pointed out that many new
immigrants were struggling to leave absorption centers, where they live for the
first few years after arriving here, and consequently the centers had limited
space for newer immigrants. The committee also pointed out that pressure was
mounting on other services required for a successful absorption process, such as
education and welfare.
In Tuesday’s meeting, Molla discounted those
arguments, saying that he had researched the topic thoroughly and found that the
Jewish Agency, which is responsible for facilitating the aliya and absorption of
the new immigrants, could easily accommodate an increase in the number of people
arriving each month.
Figures Molla presented – and the Jewish Agency
confirmed at Tuesday’s meeting – show that there are 1,200 spare beds available
for new immigrants in some 16 absorption centers nationwide.
“It is so
frustrating to arrive at a hearing and present information after doing all the
research, only to have the [Immigrant Absorption] ministry tell me that I am
wrong,” Molla told The Jerusalem Post
after the hearing.
Haim Katsav, the
ministry’s deputy director for housing, had disputed Molla’s numbers at the
meeting, saying that there was less space available.
should be bringing those it promised to bring, and we will continue to fight
until this is changed,” stated Molla.
Shamalov-Berkovich, who was
temporarily replacing the committee’s standing chairman Danny Danon (Likud),
said that she was new to the challenges facing Ethiopian aliya, but that after
the hearing, she was now determined to join the fight.
“I am shocked by
what I have heard in this committee meeting today,” she told the Post.
plan to become very involved in this issue.”
Meanwhile, Amos Arbel,
director of the Registration and Civil Status Department in the Interior
Ministry, told the hearing that other groups had already started to come forward
demanding the right to immigrate.
He said Interior Minister Eli Yishai
had recently received a new list of Ethiopian nationals who wanted to immigrate,
most because they had relatives already living here. In addition, Arbel said
that Interior Ministry representatives in Gondar had discovered a further 400
people eligible to make aliya under the Law of Return.
Rabbi Shlomo Amar officially recognized the Falash Mura as part of the Jewish
people in 2002, and they were allowed to make aliya under a special clause in
the Law of Entry.
The immigrants must also undergo a conversion to
Judaism upon arrival in Israel.
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