Ethiopian groups vow to fight demand to end Falash Mura aliya

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit says the aliya of the Falash Mura - people whose Jewish ancestors were forcibly converted - should be stopped "tomorrow".

ethiopian child 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ethiopian child 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ethiopian immigrant groups have called an emergency meeting for next week to counter new Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit's demand for an immediate halt to the immigration of the Ethiopian Falash Mura population. Sheetrit told The Jerusalem Post this week that the aliya of the Falash Mura - people whose Jewish ancestors were forcibly converted to Christianity centuries ago - should be stopped "tomorrow" and that Israel should instead focus on becoming a "real state" and not act as a committee for the Jewish people. He also accused groups advocating for the arrival of the remaining Falash Mura of having "personal interests" and of "making a living off of this." "We demand that the minister take back his words," stormed Avraham Neguise, director of advocacy group South Wing to Zion. The group is funded in part by the North American Coalition on Ethiopian Jewry - an organization directly involved in facilitating the aliya of Falash Mura. "They were irresponsible comments that were made after such a short time in office," said Neguise. "He has not even made an effort to meet with Ethiopian Israeli families whose children or parents are still in Ethiopia and waiting to come here." "Something does not smell right here," Neguise continued. He said that Ethiopian organizations had called an emergency meeting for next week in order to discuss a course of action, and added that he did not rule out a large demonstration against the Moroccan-born minister. Sheetrit, he said, should not forget "where he comes from." Estimates by the Israeli government and Jewish Agency for Israel suggest there are 4,500 people remaining in Ethiopia eligible to immigrate. But according to Neguise some 15,000 people either have family members here or can prove they are descendents of Jews. "We will continue our fight for the right of every Jew to make aliya," said Neguise, adding that, "Israel is the home for all Jews." In his comments to the Post, Sheetrit also criticized US Jewry for its support of this immigration drive, which he said was "creating a hell of a job for ourselves." "If they want to take care of them, take them to America," stated the minister. "I haven't seen them take even one Ethiopian to America and, in the meantime, Israel is the only country to get Ethiopians. And we accept them with open hearts." Nachman Shai, senior vice president of the United Jewish Committee and director general of its Israel operations, said that over the past 20 years, the UJC had been helping tremendously in facilitating the aliya of Ethiopian Jews. "We are very proud that we can help such people," said Shai. "I am very sorry to hear Sheetrit holds such an opinion." He added that the UJC, which acts as an umbrella organization for Jewish community federations in the US, is committed to the fate and survival of all Jews anywhere in the world.