Last Jews in Ethiopia threaten hunger strike over stalled Israel move

“We are yearning for our homeland, we will not wait longer,” a leader of the Ethiopian Jewish community said.

President Rivlin with Falash Mura visitors  (photo credit: MARC NEYMAN/GPO)
President Rivlin with Falash Mura visitors
(photo credit: MARC NEYMAN/GPO)
ADDIS ABABA – The heads of the Falash Mura community in Addis Abba threatened to go on hunger strike if the government fails to make a decision by the end of this week to begin bringing 8,000 members of the community to Israel.
The community heads issued their warning on Tuesday night during a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, who is here on a state visit to Ethiopia to strengthen diplomatic and business ties, and to encourage Israeli aid and development assistance in the country and in Africa more broadly.
In 2015, the government approved the aliya of some 9,000 members of the community for the purposes of family reunification, the large majority of whom have parents, siblings or children in Israel who obtained citizenship during previous rounds of immigration.
The Falash Mura, a community of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity under pressure in the late 19th and early 20th century, are not entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return but have in the past been given special dispensation to come to Israel and then obtain citizenship after undergoing a conversion process.
There have been, however, lengthy delays in implementing the 2015 cabinet decision, and although 1,300 were brought to Israel last year, the government has not allocated funds to bring the remaining 8,000.
“I have been waiting 20 years to make aliya. My parents and three sisters are all in Israel, and 2,000 of our community have died in those 20 years waiting to make aliya,” Melese Sidsto, head of the Falash Mura community in Addis Ababa, told Rivlin in a meeting on Tuesday night.
Sidsto and other representatives of the community who were present at the meeting said that their lives are difficult in Ethiopia, that they face discrimination and that they yearn to come and live in the Jewish state.
Likud MK Avraham Neguise, a leading activist for the Falash Mura, said during the meeting that of the 8,000, 1,000 have children in Israel, 2,200 have either one or both parents in Israel and 2,500 have at least one sibling in the country.
He insisted, however, that all 8,000 have the right to make aliya, and argued that it would not be difficult to absorb this number of people.
Critics of further migration of the Falash Mura, including from inside the Ethiopian community in Israel, say, however, that the criteria used in previous rounds of immigration were too broad and that allowing for further family reunification will lead to ever more rounds of immigration from the country of people who are not necessarily connected to Judaism.
Oren Cohen of the Prime Minister’s Office said that a ministerial meeting including the finance, interior and aliya and integration ministers is scheduled for June 18, where a decision will be taken.
He said he did not know how many of those waiting to make aliya would be approved, but that every request would be examined in accordance with government criteria.
Addressing the representatives after they had spoken, Rivlin said that as president of Israel he had a responsibility for all Jews around the world, and that “justice should be done” for those seeking to reunite with their families.
He insisted, however, that he would not make promises he could not keep, and committed therefore to raising the issue with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Arye Deri, and communicating the pain and hopes of those waiting to come to Israel.
“One thousand three hundred immigrants a year is great, but not enough and we need to continue to deal with this issue,” said the president.
“I came to you with all my heart. I will be in touch with the government and convey everything I heard from you and give them the letters you sent me... I came to give you information, and not promises, and we will try and do everything in our power to advance and carry out the [2015] government decision,” Rivlin said.
Speaking afterward to The Jerusalem Post, Sidsto said that despite the meeting scheduled for June 18, the large majority of the 3,000-strong Falash Mura community in Addis Ababa would begin its hunger strike by the end of the week if a decision is not made by then.
He said that many previous deadlines have been set and the community is not willing to wait for another one.
“We are yearning for our homeland, we will not wait longer,” he said.