Minister proposes bringing 4,500 Falash Mura to Israel by year's end

Knesset Aliyah, Absorption and Diaspora Committee Chair MK David Bitan calls to finish process by 2021 instead.

The author (front right) with 8,000 Falash Mura in 1998 ignored at the time by the State of Israel; although all of them made aliyah, about 9,000 remain in Gondar today (photo credit: YOSEF ABRAMOWITZ)
The author (front right) with 8,000 Falash Mura in 1998 ignored at the time by the State of Israel; although all of them made aliyah, about 9,000 remain in Gondar today
(photo credit: YOSEF ABRAMOWITZ)
Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata outlined her plans on Wednesday to bring 4,500 members of the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia to Israel by the end of the year, and the remainder of those eligible to immigrate by 2023.
Tamano-Shata laid out details of her plan to the Knesset Aliyah, Absorption and Diaspora Committee, saying the long-running saga, in which many of those seeking to come to Israel have been waiting for over a decade, must come to an end.
Committee chairman MK David Bitan largely appeared to approve of the proposals, although arguing that the process should be shortened and that all those eligible for immigration should be brought by the end of 2021.
He also insisted that a crucial part of the plan is to close the compounds where those waiting live, once they have immigrated to Israel, a stipulation that Tamano-Shata’s plan includes.
The Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry estimates that there are approximately 8,000 people waiting in the compounds in Addis Ababa and Gondar who may be eligible for immigration to Israel under the criteria established by previous government decisions.
Of those 8,000, approximately 4,500 have first-degree relatives living in Israel – parents, children or siblings – and it is those members of the community who are definitely eligible for immigration and whom the minister seeks to bring to the country immediately.
The Falash Mura immigrated to Israel under the terms of family reunification laws, not the Law of Return, since those that remain are the descendants of Jews, but not Jewish according to Jewish law, and do not qualify for the Law of Return since their ancestors converted, under duress, to Christianity.
Tamano-Shata said that the plan she is proposing will establish an Exceptions Committee for everyone other than the 4,500, which will examine the claims of each individual and make a decision whether or not to allow him to immigrate.
The Exceptions Committee will consist of a retired judge, two representatives of the Population and Immigration Authority, a representative of the Aliyah Ministry, a public representative, committee secretary, and two kessim, spiritual leaders of the Ethiopian Jewish community.
Tamano-Shata said that the government would work with the authorities in Ethiopia to provide assistance to anyone who does not receive authorization for immigration, including securing permanent residency rights in Addis Ababa or Gondar, which they do not currently have.
During the hearing, MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh of Blue and White spoke out strongly for what she said is the importance of bringing those waiting in the compounds to Israel as quickly as possible, stating that conditions there are deteriorating due to the coronavirus crisis.
“Bringing these people to Israel is the vision of the State of Israel. Ethiopian Jews have prayed for thousands of years to come to Israel. If we do not bring them to Israel now, they will die there,” she asserted.
Cotler-Wunsh added that if this does not happen, there are several Orthodox rabbis in Israel who have threatened to go to Ethiopia and perform conversions for those waiting so that the state would be obligated to allow them to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.
Tamano-Shata’s plan is being reviewed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, and will eventually be brought to a vote for approval by the cabinet.
Interior Minister Arye Deri, who has the ultimate authority over Falash Mura immigration, has yet to express an opinion on the proposals, however.
A spokesman for Deri said that he has requested a meeting with Netanyahu on the issue and will formulate his position afterward.