Activists fight ending Ethiopian aliya

According to the Public Council for Ethiopian Jews, the government is reneging on its original promise to bring in all remaining Falash Mura to Israel.

Ethiopians sigd 224.88 (photo credit: Ruth Eglash [file])
Ethiopians sigd 224.88
(photo credit: Ruth Eglash [file])
Ethiopian community leaders and social action groups will step up their fight this week against a government decision to wind down Ethiopian aliya in the coming months, as arguments for bringing thousands more Falash Mura immigrants currently unrecognized by Israel are presented to the Knesset's State Control Committee on Wednesday morning. According to representatives from the newly-formed Public Council for Ethiopian Jews, which includes such public figures as former Supreme Court Judge Meir Shamgar, Prof. Irwin Kotler, Ethiopian Chief Rabbi Yosef Adaneh, Geulah Cohen, Naomi Hazan and Hanan Porat, the government is reneging on its original promise to bring in all remaining Falash Mura - Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity under duress a century ago. They claim that sources inside the Interior Ministry have indicated that the process of checking eligibility of those still in Ethiopia will be stopped by the end of this year. This past summer, Jewish Agency for Israel officials based in Addis Ababa told The Jerusalem Post that aliya from the African nation would be over by the end of 2008, a sentiment reiterated by the Interior Ministry. "We are not stopping our activities in Ethiopia; we are simply winding down an operation that has reached a natural conclusion," Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabene Hadad said Tuesday. She confirmed that Interior Ministry operations in Gondar, where most of the Falash Mura are currently waiting to be processed for aliya, would be over sometime in the near future. "What is important to highlight here is that the government is going back on its original commitment and is refusing entry to roughly 8,000 people who are eligible to make aliya according to criteria outlined in the past," Avraham Neguise, director of Ethiopian advocacy group South Wing to Zion, told the Post. He was referring to a government decision from February 2003 permitting those Falash Mura willing to undergo an Orthodox Jewish conversion process to come to Israel under the Law of Entry. "The government's original decision did not talk about stopping the aliya on a certain date or at a certain point, but said rather that all those with a maternal link to Judaism were eligible to immigrate," continued Neguise, adding that many of those who either were denied entry to Israel or had not yet been checked for eligibility had close family members already living here. One such family is that of 24-year-old Telahun Tzegah, who made aliya with his mother seven years ago but left behind family members in Gondar, including half-siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. "Their bags are packed and they are ready to come, but they [the Interior Ministry] refuse to process them," he said Tuesday, adding, "They were originally told that they could make aliya, so they left their villages and moved to Gondar. Now they are stuck there with no help. They can't go back to their villages, and they aren't allowed to move here." Tzegah said that he was regularly forced to send the family a portion of the meager salary he earns as a security guard, "just so they can afford to eat." The Interior Ministry explained previously that it was simply working in compliance with the specifications of the 1999 Efrati census, which lists those Falash Mura with familial ties to Jews and hence eligible to come here. However, Neguise pointed out that the Efrati list originally included three volumes - Falash Mura in Addis Ababa, in Gondar and in the outlying villages. "The ministry has decided to ignore those people from the villages," he said. "How can the government make the decision to split up families like this?" Rabbi Menahem Waldman, director of the Shvut Am Institute and an expert on the Falash Mura conversion process, has joined forces with Neguise and also sits on the Public Council for Ethiopian Jews. "These people are recognized as Jews according to Halacha and the State of Israel," said Waldman, who helped to compile the Efrati census. "It is our responsibility as a Zionist state to bring these people here and welcome them with an open heart." He said that along with the hearing in the Knesset on Wednesday, the forum was also supporting a legal petition to force the government to honor its original commitment, and added that it would not give up until those 8,000 people were brought to Israel.