Rescue of remaining Ethiopian Jews may lead to coalition crisis - report

The debate about the remaining Ethiopian Jews: Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata is insisting that Israel launch a rescue operation, despite an NSI document that said the opposite.

PNINA TAMANO-SHATA: We are the generation that merited to be the one that returned to Zion, and we need to encourage aliyah because this is the home of all Jews. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
PNINA TAMANO-SHATA: We are the generation that merited to be the one that returned to Zion, and we need to encourage aliyah because this is the home of all Jews.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

A crisis is brewing with Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White) over the continued delay in bringing Ethiopia's remaining Jews to Israel, Army Radio reported on Monday morning. This is due to Tamano-Shata's unwillingness to compromise on the issue, and claims that she will not remain in the government if action is not taken.

According to the report, a classified document compiled by the National Security Council claimed that it is not clear to what extent the 8,000 remaining Jewish are indeed Jewish and to what extent they are actually in danger. The document added that bringing them to Israel without a proper investigation could be a demographic mistake and that a rescue operation may create tensions with Ethiopian authorities.

On Sunday, Haaretz revealed that Israel had already airlifted dozens of Ethiopians out of the war-torn country but then learned that they were not, in fact, Jewish.

Tamano-Shata and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) will meet on Monday to discuss the issue, and the government will convene on Monday evening for a special discussion on the topic with all relevant bodies.

The Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning on Thursday to Ethiopia due to reports that rebel forces intended to occupy the capital, and on Saturday began evacuating the families of Israeli diplomats from the country. 

Ethiopians, who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, carry their belongings after crossing the Setit River on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in the eastern Kassala state, Sudan December 16, 2020. (credit: MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH/REUTERS)Ethiopians, who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, carry their belongings after crossing the Setit River on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in the eastern Kassala state, Sudan December 16, 2020. (credit: MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH/REUTERS)

On Sunday, Ori Frednik, head of Jews of Ethiopia, called on the government to launch an operation to bring the remaining Jews to Israel, in light of the growing violence in the country.

"We are receiving worrying reports from the sons and daughters of the Jewish communities of Addis Ababa and Gondar. A lightning rescue operation is needed before a disaster happens. Prime Minister Bennet can make history and follow the paths of [Menachem] Begin and [Yitzhak] Shamir with an effective Aliyah operation, or be remembered as the one who did not heed the warnings and did not prevent the worst of all," he warned. 

"The Interior Ministry says that there are about 8,000 Jews in Ethiopia, [and] they are part of the heart and soul of the community in Israel," Frednik added on Monday in an interview with Army Radio. "We have family members waiting there. We founded this country in order to accept Jews in distress, but when dealing with black Jews there are problems. It suddenly becomes a favor," he said. 

The recent escalation in Ethiopia is part of a year-long conflict between Tigrayan forces and the Ethiopian military.

A joint investigation by the UN and an Ethiopian human rights team concluded that all sides have tortured and killed civilians, carried out gang rapes, and have arrested people solely based on their ethnicity.

The war between the two sides started over a year ago when Tigrayan soldiers in the national army seized control of military bases across Tigray.

Gadi Zaig contributed to this article.