Falash Mura women 521.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
After months of pressure and criticism from members of the Ethiopian community
in Israel and their supporters worldwide, the government finally agreed Sunday
night to dramatically increase the number of immigrants arriving here monthly
from the East African nation.
Sunday’s decision was reached between
representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office, the ministries of Finance,
Interior and Immigrant Absorption and the Jewish Agency at a joint session held
at the agency’s Board of Governors meeting, taking place this week in
“The Jewish Agency is thrilled by this decision and will do
everything in our power to bring this historic aliya to its completion as
quickly as possible,” commented Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky after the
The new arrangement will mean that instead of only 110 new immigrants arriving
in Israel each month, as has been the case for the last few months, some 250
Falash Mura – Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity more than
a century ago – will be allowed to immigrate.
A spokesman for the Jewish
Agency said that it had some 1,200 free beds in absorption centers here and that
the increased rate of aliya would continue until June, when the situation will
be reassessed to determine how much space is left.
Continuing to bring
250 immigrants each month will depend on whether those living in the absorption
centers are given enough support to enable them to move out and free up space to
allow more immigrants to arrive.
While Sharansky thanked Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu for his leadership on this issue, those who have been
lobbying the government to increase the flow of aliya for humanitarian reasons
welcomed the news with caution.
“Of course I am delighted that for the
next four months at least the rate will be increased to 250 a month,” said
Joseph Feit, former president of the North American Conference on Ethiopian
Jewry, a charity that previously ran the services for those waiting to
“I am also pleased that serious consideration will be given to
opening a new immigrant absorption centers, even though the details of how those
centers will be financed is still not clear.”
Feit also said if the
absorption rate stays above 200 a month, it could mean that the overall aliya
operation in Ethiopia will finish ahead of the touted March 2014
The latest decision to increase the number of immigrants
arriving here each month is a turnabout for the government, which in November
announced that it was adopting recommendations made by a Treasury committee to
reduce the number of people coming to 110 a month.
international supporters, however, have spent the last four months putting
pressure on the government to increase the number to at least 200, claiming that
the longer the community waits in Ethiopia to immigrate the more complicated the
absorption process will be. In addition, they have pointed out that the
situation facing the Falash Mura community in the Northern Ethiopian city of
Gondar is particularly harsh, especially after they have been found eligible for
immigration by the Israeli government.
Sunday’s decision follows a
government declaration in November 2010 to continue the flow of aliya from
Ethiopia, allowing roughly 8,000 to come to Israel within three years. To date,
6,000 Falash Mura have been officially approved for aliya; however, while half
of those have arrived here, the rest continue to wait.
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 undergo conversion to Judaism upon
arrival in Israel.