ETHIOPIAN-ISRAELI KESSIM celebrate the Sigd holiday in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In the past five months, despite two cabinet decisions approving their aliya, not a single one of the 9,000 remaining Falash Mura, who are descendants of forcibly converted Ethiopian Jews, has been allowed to move to the Jewish state.
Although more than 80% of them have first-degree relatives in Israel, and many have been waiting 10 or even 15 years to immigrate, the beleaguered community continues to suffer in silence while awaiting redemption.
This state of affairs is absolutely intolerable and it is time for world Jewry to raise its collective voice and press Jerusalem for an immediate solution.
Back in November 2015, the government passed a unanimous resolution that should have paved the way for an end to this saga. It agreed to allow those among the 9,000 still in Ethiopia who met certain criteria to move to Israel once they had been checked and approved by Interior Ministry officials.
But the implementation of the resolution was halted after officials in the Prime Minister’s Office claimed there was no money in the budget to bring the Falash Mura home to Zion.
The would-be immigrants were therefore forced to wait another nine months, when the Finance Ministry finally agreed to allocate funds for the aliya.
In August 2016, yet another cabinet decision was passed, approving the aliya of 1,300 Falash Mura by the end of 2017 and most of the remainder by 2020, raising hopes that this ongoing human drama would at last be resolved.
To much fanfare, a small group of 63 Falash Mura was allowed to make aliya in October 2016, creating the impression that the problem was in fact being addressed.
But it was nothing more than a cynical public relations ploy, as the entire group consisted of Falash Mura who had been approved for aliya prior to the government’s decision but were simply prevented from exercising their right to do so.
Since then, Israel’s bureaucrats have come up with a barrage of excuses in an attempt to explain why no additional Falash Mura have set foot on the soil of the Holy Land.
These have ranged from a dispute over salaries for Interior Ministry employees who need to be dispatched to Ethiopia, to assertions that there was insufficient air-conditioning at facilities in the country to allow the proper processing of applications.
Two Likud MKs, Avraham Neguise and David Amsalem, have been leading a valiant struggle to force the government to stick to its promises. They recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Ethiopia, where they saw firsthand the dire conditions in which the Falash Mura live, and they are sounding the alarm to raise public awareness over the issue.
Last year, it was their joint threat to stop voting with the coalition that essentially compelled the government to act.
And now, Neguise and Amsalem once again are threatening a coalition crisis over the issue, and rightly so.
After all, when an Israeli government refuses to honor its own resolutions and bring Jews home to Israel in a timely fashion, it is acting contrary to the Zionist principles that underpin the foundations of the state.
Speaking in the Knesset on Tuesday at a joint session of the Immigration and Absorption and the Internal Affairs committees, Amsalem said, “These are people who are sick and dying. It won’t happen under my watch that a child will die because we didn’t bring him for medical treatment.
“I will start leading steps to hurt your ministries, so that everyone will deal with it,” Amsalem told representatives of government ministries in attendance.
“They will come here with or without you,” he said.
In light of all the bureaucratic foot-dragging and broken promises of the past few years, it is difficult not to wonder whether Israel really wants more Ethiopian Jews.
How else could one possibly explain an otherwise inexplicable situation? And if the answer to this question is “no” – and I pray that it isn’t – then the government has a lot of explaining to do.
The last chapter is now being written in the heroic saga of Israel’s rescue of Ethiopian Jewry over the past four decades. There is no reason it must end in tragedy or despair.
With the approach of Passover, the Festival of Freedom when we commemorate the Exodus, now would be the perfect time for the government to begin implementing its own resolutions and bring our brethren from Ethiopia home to Jerusalem where they belong.
The writer is founder and chairman of Shavei Israel (www.
shavei.org) which assists lost tribes and other hidden Jewish communities to return to Israel and the Jewish people.