The cabinet is set to vote on Sunday on a government resolution for the expedited immigration of the community of Jews and descendants of Jews in Ethiopia, with the civil war in the country worsening and amid ongoing reports of forced military conscription of some community members.
Earlier this month, Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked announced they had agreed to fast-track the immigration of 5,000 members of these communities due to the fierce civil war in Ethiopia.
But a spokesman for Shaked said on Thursday that the number of people who will be allowed to move to Israel under the government resolution that is being drafted will now be 3,000 – in line with what he said were figures in the coalition agreement that formed the current government.
The Finance Ministry also stated that the current resolution will only provide for the immigration of 3,000 people.
The civil war in Ethiopia began a year ago with an initially successful offensive by the Ethiopian National Defense Force into the northern region of Tigray, but a counter-offensive by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has pushed deep into the Amhara region.
According to a report in the Guardian, the TPLF said this week it had captured the town of Shewa Robit, just 220 km. (137 miles) by road from the capital Addis Ababa, and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared on Twitter that he was going to the battlefront to lead the defense of the country.
The governments of the US, France and Germany have all called on their nationals to leave Ethiopia immediately because of the ongoing war.
Multiple sources in Ethiopia and activists in Israel with close ties to the communities there have told The Jerusalem Post that members of the community of Jews and descendants of Jews have been forcibly drafted into the Ethiopian National Defense Force.
AS THE Ethiopian army’s position has worsened, the government has increasingly used forcible conscription to bolster its armed forces, many of whom are sent to the battle front, and this policy has affected those in the community of Jews and descendants of Jews as well.
According to one source in the northern city of Gondar who spoke on condition of anonymity, between 60 and 70 members of the community there have been drafted.
The source added, however, that some youths in the community have actually volunteered to enlist in order to obtain an army salary, due to a scarcity of jobs because of the war and rising food prices.
Another source in the city confirmed that members of the community have been forcibly conscripted, but was unable to estimate how many.
It is believed that some of those who have been drafted are already at the battlefront.
Claims regarding the forced conscription of members of the community are difficult to verify, however.
One source in Gondar also mentioned that in the last month alone, three members of the community have been kidnapped for the purposes of ransom, since criminals and militias believe members of the community of Jews and descendants of Jews are able to pay relatively high ransoms since they have relatives in Israel.
In all cases, ransoms were paid and the hostages released, although these reports are also difficult to verify.
Several experts and activists have said that members of the communities are generally not in greater danger than the rest of the population, although the intensity of the fighting means that civilians in general do face significant dangers which will be significantly exacerbated if and when the TPLF reaches major cities such as Addis.
But a group of 750-800 Tigrayans in the community of Jewish descendants in Addis are at higher risk due to their ethnic background.
THE COMMUNITY of Jews and Jewish descendants is, however, particularly vulnerable economically, having moved many years ago from their ancestral villages to Addis and Gondar in anticipation of emigrating to Israel, but who now lack economic stability and support.
Rising food prices have exacerbated their situation.
“The government of Israel has not taken any steps to ensure the safety and minimal living conditions of the Beta Israel, many thousands of whom will be future citizens of Israel,” said Joseph Feit, chairman of the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry.
“No minister or lower level official has bothered to find out the actual facts by contacting SSEJ, the NGO registered with the Ethiopian government, which is on the ground, providing daily humanitarian assistance to the communities....
“This callous disregard for the well-being of a destitute Jewish community and for the truth of their imperiled situation would not be displayed toward future Israeli citizens from Europe or North America.”
There are 5,000 members of the community of descendants of Jews remaining in Ethiopia who were included in government decision #716 from 2015 as potentially eligible for immigration to Israel, based on lists drawn up in 2010.
Activists claim that there are now another 4,000 people in this community as a result of natural growth, although their claims of eligibility for immigration have never been examined by Israeli officials.
Since the list was drawn up in 2010, another community claiming maternal Jewish descent of 5,340 people from the Gojjam region has also requested to immigrate to Israel. Their claims to Jewish status have been approved by senior religious-Zionist rabbis such as Rabbi Yaakov Medan and Rabbi Re’em HaCohen.
All immigration from Ethiopia is now based on family reunification laws, not the right of return, since those with claims that the state has evaluated are only of paternal Jewish descent – and their ancestors converted to Christianity under duress in the late 19th century.
Critics of ongoing immigration from Ethiopia have said that immigration based on family reunification should now be ended since it will create a never-ending chain of claims for immigration from the relatives of new immigrants.