Fundraisers upset over Falash Mura policy

Jewish Federations raised $60 million last year in a campaign to fund absorption.

ethipian remembrance 298 (photo credit: Channel 1)
ethipian remembrance 298
(photo credit: Channel 1)
The Israeli government's postponement of the absorption of Falash Mura could have a disastrous impact on fundraising efforts to help the population, according to American Jewish leaders working on the issue. They held a tense meeting with Interior Minister Roni Bar-On Tuesday in which they expressed their displeasure with the recent government ruling. Jewish Federations around the world launched a campaign to raise $100 million for the absorption of Falash Mura late last year, of which some $60 million has already been raised. The previous government decided in 2005 that the rate of Falash Mura arriving each month in Israel would double from 300 to 600 but was never implemented. Last week, a new interministerial committee, citing budgetary constraints, delayed any increase at least until another meeting is held two months from now after discussions on the 2006 budget commence - and perhaps longer. "This will have a devastating effect on fundraising," United Jewish Communities Chairman Bobby Goldberg told The Jerusalem Post. "We have to sit down and figure out what we will tell people." The "Operation Promise" fundraising campaign commenced only after then prime minister Ariel Sharon doubled the absorption rate and asked the Diaspora for financial help, according to Goldberg. Now "we lose credibility with our donors. We lose credibility with the Jewish people of the United States," he said. We have to tell them the truth, and the truth is that Israel has changed its mind." Some of the participants in the meeting with Bar-On described the decision as "heartless." They also questioned Israel's limiting aliya for financial reasons when that hasn't happened before, according to one of the participants, who spoke on condition of anonymity since the meeting, held with some 25 members of the Jewish Agency Executive, was closed. The group is due to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the subject again Wednesday night. Bar-On explained the financial and absorption issues with bringing in the Falash Mura, Ethiopians who converted to Christianity but have since returned to Judaism. He made similar comments as those that appeared in the Post, where he said, "If somebody gave me the money," he said. "I'd only be moving the problem from there to here. Because even if I had all the money, I don't know if I could say that we're geared up to absorb this whole number." Those on Bar-On's team thought the meeting was "positive" because participants were honest about their perspectives and listened to the information at hand. They noted that Bar-On must weigh many different considerations when formulating a policy on the issue. Before the meeting, Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Boim told the Jewish Agency that the decision of the committee, of which he is a member, was "very disappointing" because it "ran counter to a previous decision" that Sharon had made. He added, though, that "We are not talking about Jews. They are not Jews according to Halacha. Even the rabbis are not saying that." Boim also referred to the financial constraints faced by the government, describing the cost of absorbing the current 300 immigrants a month at NIS 2 billion. He was challenged by Mendel Kaplan, Keren Hayesod honorary world chairman, who suggested that the numbers being presented don't add up. Before Boim took the podium, Jewish Agency Board of Governors Chairwoman Carole Solomon urged him to work to resolve the Falash Mura issue. After the meeting with Bar-On, in which he had pointed out the difficult life the Falash Mura have in Israel, Solomon said, "Less than ideal absorption in Israel would be far superior to what they are experiencing in their current conditions."