Latest aliya wave leaves thousands of Ethiopian Jews behind

Families of thousands still waiting to make aliya were left wondering when their family members would also be approved to make the move.

Members of the Jewish Ethiopian community attend a prayer service at the HaTikvah Synagogue in Gondar, northern Ethiopia, September 30, 2016. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Members of the Jewish Ethiopian community attend a prayer service at the HaTikvah Synagogue in Gondar, northern Ethiopia, September 30, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The last 119 Ethiopian Jews approved to make aliya were set to arrive on Wednesday and Thursday, completing the immigration of the 1,300 persons whom the government had promised to bring to Israel by the end of the year.
The families of the thousands still waiting to make aliya were left wondering when their family members would also be approved to make the move.
According to the two latest cabinet decisions on the issue, held in November 2015 and in August 2016, some 9,000 Falash Mura, Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity, may be brought to Israel by the end of 2020, starting with the 1,300 in 2017.
Sabine Hadad, a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority, has stressed in the past that “9,000” is only the potential number, and that of those 9,000 people, the government will accept only those who meet the ministry’s criteria.
Alisa Bodner, spokeswoman to foreign media of the advocacy group Struggle for Ethiopian Aliya, has accused the ministry of not having upheld all of its commitments, specifically referring to Clause 5 of cabinet decision 1911, passed in 2016.
The clause states that as long as the Population and Immigration Authority understands that the number of those eligible to enter the country according to this decision is significantly higher or lower than 1,300, it will be brought again before the cabinet for approval. Despite this requirement, “This never happened,” Bodner told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
“The budget [for immigration] is going to be decided on in the next few days, and if those names [of those awaiting aliya] are not at the Prime Minister’s Office, then they won’t be included in the budget,” she said. “So there’s a lot of concern that immigration will not continue in the coming year.”
She added that government representatives are being unresponsive to queries by activists.
In response to a query by the Post, the interior minister’s spokesman Barak Serry said: “The Population and Immigration Authority completed its activities in accordance with the cabinet’s decision to absorb 1,300 immigrants from Ethiopia according to the criteria that were set. The data were transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office.
“The decision regarding an additional quota should be made by the cabinet in a special resolution. To date, to the best of our knowledge, no proposal has been formulated for this matter and we have not been asked to address it.”
The Post sought to verify Bodner’s assertions regarding the Population and Immigration Authority, but Hadad did not respond to a query as to whether the authority had stated that there were more Ethiopians eligible for aliya.
Ethiopian-Israeli MK Avraham Neguise, who has spearheaded efforts to bring Ethiopians eligible for aliya to Israel, told the Post on Wednesday that “there is a positive approach toward the need to continue the aliya in 2018, but there is no final decision.
“We know that the Interior Ministry has identified that there are more people eligible under the cabinet decision and current criteria..., but the aliya cannot continue unless the cabinet has approved another budget for 2018,” Neguise added.
The MK expressed hope that a new resolution would be approved on the issue, noting that “nobody has said no, but they say it is in the process of receiving the necessary approval.
“The interior minister has not brought it to the cabinet,” he added, saying the responsibility lies with Interior Minister Arye Deri, in order to bring about a new cabinet decision and for the Finance Ministry to subsequently allocate the necessary funds for the aliya. “But if the interior minister does not demand it, they won’t do it voluntarily,” Neguise asserted.
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem said on Wednesday that once additional olim from Ethiopia are approved by the cabinet, it stands ready to raise the money needed to sponsor this second year of renewed Ethiopian aliya.
The ICEJ invested $1.2 million in Ethiopian aliya this past year, including additional monies to assist with the critical absorption phase, as these Jewish communities adjust to the new language and culture of Israel. Christians from all over the world have been contributing to this humanitarian cause, including generous donations from African Christians, the organization noted.
“The great ingathering of the Jewish people to Eretz Israel is still continuing, and it is a real privilege and joy for our organization to play such a central role in this historic return to Zion,” said Dr. Jürgen Bühler, president of the ICEJ.
“We know that these latest arrivals from the Ethiopia community will never be the same as they rejoin their families and become fully part of the modern miracle of Israel. Some of these families have been separated now for over two decades, and so it is a special honor for us to help bring them back together here in the Jewish homeland.”
“Falash Mura” is the name given to those of the Beta Israel community in Ethiopia and Eritrea who – under compulsion and pressure from missionaries – converted to Christianity during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Since their ancestors converted to another religion, the Falash Mura are not covered by the Law of Return, which grants the right to immigrate and gain citizenship to anyone with a Jewish grandparent.
The Falash Mura are brought to Israel under the Law of Entry and are required to convert to Judaism once in Israel. They receive the same absorption benefits granted to immigrants who come under the Law of Return.
Abere Endeshaw, a leader of the Jewish community in Ethiopia, is waiting in Addis Ababa for his own chance to make aliya.
“This week is the last aliya of the year,” he said. “Today I witnessed some of the community members leaving Ethiopia and heading toward the Promised Land. Today I saw two sisters – one heading home to Israel and one back to the community. I saw two brothers – one heading home to Israel and one going back to the community, and many more. I wonder when the separation will stop. I wonder when the cries of a mother and father, sister and brother, aunt and uncle will stop and be united with happiness.
“I wish a very successful journey for the Jews all over the world who made aliya during this year, and I wish strength and hope for the remaining Jews who are waiting to go back home,” Endeshaw said.