Lipman, Falash Mura 311.
(photo credit: (Courtesy, Dov Lipman))
It would be hard to overstate the travails that Ethiopian Jews endured in order
to fulfill their centuries-old dream of returning to Jerusalem, in Zion. They
have been persecuted, survived famine and civil war, and thousands of people
have waited for years in transit camps in Gondar with little food, no medical
care and in constant danger of anti-Semitic attacks by local non-Jews. Even for
Ethiopians who make it to Israel, aliya to Israel often does not bring their
ordeal to a close. Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis still have sisters,
brothers, children and parents stuck in camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa, waiting
to immigrate to Israel.
The issue dates back to the aftermath of
Operation Solomon in 1991 when 14,000 people were airlifted to Israel in a
dramatic 48-hour rescue operation. But at the same time, an equal number
were left behind to cling to the hope that their dream of making it to their
homeland would soon come true. Year after year passed, controversy after
controversy erupted in Israel about the Falash Mura and their precise halachic
(Jewish legal) status as Jews because their ancestors converted to Christianity
more than 100 years ago.
Mainly, however, the people
waited. Fourteen thousand Jews in Gondar and another 1,000 or so in Addis
Ababa continue to languish in transit camps.
WHY HAVE they been left
behind? The Israeli government decided in November 2010 not to bring the people
remaining in these camps to Israel, and instead to concentrate only on the
approximately 6,000 people who were included in a 1999 Interior Ministry census
as Ethiopians who have been recognized by Israel’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar as
As an Orthodox Jew, I would ordinarily be thrilled by an Israeli
government decision to make Jewish law a component of official policy. But Rabbi
Yosef Hadana, the chief rabbi of the Ethiopian community in Israel, has ruled
that the people waiting for aliya are halachically Jewish, as has the Chief Kes
of all Ethiopian Jewry.
Even if our rabbinic authorities had not
ruled in favor of these “refuseniks,” simple logic and human mercy dictates that
parents, children and siblings who were granted the right to immigrate to Israel
should be allowed to bring their family members as well. Has that not been the
case with so many non-Jewish Russians, who have been free to immigrate to Israel
together with their Jewish spouses who immigrate under the Law of Return?
painful, sharp question must be asked: Why has the Israeli government suddenly
developed such a strong tie to Jewish law and decided to strand thousands of
people in transit camps in Ethiopia? Does the humane tenet of family
reunification not dictate the immediate rescue of the remaining Falash Mura?
Sadly, I have come to the unhappy conclusion that there is only one, very
depressing answer. While it is completely false to say that “Zionism is racism,”
there is no way to avoid the sad truth that many Zionists are
This theory was given significant support in recent weeks. In
November, the Hebrew-language Yediot Aharonot
newspaper reported a shocking
story about the mayor of Beit Shemesh, a member of the Shas party, who was
forced to explain why his family runs segregated nursery schools for Ethiopian
Caught red-handed, he described Ethiopian children as “small
fish” who mustn’t be introduced into the aquarium until they are ready to
contend with the “large fish.” A few days later a middle school teacher was
reported to have defended the mayor, asking students, “What is wrong with
separate nurseries for the Ethiopians? I thought the blacks want to remain with
“Small fish?” “Blacks enjoy segregation?” Yes, racism is alive and
well in Israel.
While the Israeli government hides behind “Jewish law” to
excuse its inaction and refusal to bring the remaining Falash Mura to Israel
despite rabbinic rulings to the contrary, the truth has been exposed. A shocking
number of Israeli citizens and government leaders simply do not want 15,000 more
Ethiopians in Israel.
To them, the Falash Mura are little more than
“small fish” and the “blacks” who have a difficult time acclimating themselves
to Israeli society and create difficult challenges for our schools, local
municipalities and the national government. They present difficult challenges
that these staunch Zionists would prefer not to have to address.
and as a society that claims to support human rights, and simple human mercy, we
must act immediately to bring the remaining Falash Mura to Israel.
is of the essence: The longer the pleas and tears of Ethiopian Israelis go
unanswered, the deeper the lasting stain on our collective Jewish identity and
moral standing as a Jewish state.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,
please listen to your human heart and to your Zionist ethos. Don’t let racism
stand in the way of what is right. The State of Israel prides itself on being a
haven for Jews who need a refuge, as well as a home for Jews who want Judaism to
infuse every aspect of their lives. The gates of this country must be open as
well to Jews who were born with dark skin, and it is our collective
responsibility to ensure that they are able to take advantage of this special
Please, Mr. prime minister. Please. Let our people
come.The writer is a rabbi, author and the director of the English
Speakers Division of Am Shalem, the new political movement headed by MK Rabbi
Haim Amsalem. His website is wwww.rabbilipman.comLenore Levin contributed to this article.
The Jerusalem Post regrets the omission.