Ethiopian Jews call for continued immigration

An estimated 5,000 demonstrate against government's decision to end aliya from east African country.

Ethiopian protest 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ethiopian protest 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
An estimated 5,000 Ethiopian Israelis demonstrated outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on Sunday to protest against the government's decision to end aliya from the country as 8,700 Falash Mura remain in rundown camps in northern Ethiopia. The protest ended peacefully in the afternoon, although nine demonstrators were arrested for trying to block traffic, police said. "Let My People Come" read placards held by the protesters, many of them new immigrants themselves. They also carried photographs of parents, children and other relatives whom they are desperately trying to bring to Israel from Ethiopia camps. "Why are they separating us?" asked Taish Tafaka, a 29-year-old mother of two who made aliya with four of her brothers, but whose father, brother and sister have not been granted permission to immigrate. "We go to the Interior Ministry every day and ask them to bring them here; we don't understand why it isn't happening," she said. Less than two weeks ago Israel announced the end of three decades of Ethiopian aliya. Tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews who kept their faith through the centuries were flown to Israel during the 1980s and 1990s. They were followed by the Falash Mura, descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity to escape discrimination at the end of the 19th century and later returned to their roots. About 120,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today. The government and critics of continued Ethiopian immigration says the vision of rescuing Jews and returning them to their ancient home now threatens to flood the Jewish state with African migrants with little or no connection to Judaism. But advocates, including Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, say that ending the immigration is both wrong and arbitrary, and is tearing families apart. "The decision to halt the immigration is a crime against Zionism and the original Zionist ideal of saving Jews from around the world," said Avraham Nagusa, chairman of the Organization of Ethiopian Immigrants in Israel. "I regret hearing that the Jewishness of our Ethiopian brothers, the Falash Mura, has again been called into question," Amar wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "It is a big mitzva to bring them to Israel as Jews and to rescue them from certain assimilation and both physical and spiritual danger." The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement that "Israel cannot make a commitment on a specific number of Falash Mura who will be able to come, but there will not be an Ethiopian Jew who qualifies for aliya according to the Law of Return who won't be allowed to immigrate." The office has previously said that remaining applicants would be examined individually and "family reunification and specific humanitarian issues" would be taken into consideration.