Ethiopian groups stopped short of calling Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit a racist on Thursday following comments made earlier in the week to The Jerusalem Post in which the newly inaugurated minister said he believed that the aliya of the Ethiopian Falash Mura population be halted immediately. "Something does not smell right here," commented Avraham Neguise, director of advocacy group South Wing to Zion, which is funded in part by the North American Coalition on Ethiopian Jewry - an organization that is directly involved in facilitating the aliya of Falash Mura.
Sheetrit: Falash Mura aliya must end
"We demand that the minister take back his words," he continued. "They were irresponsible comments that were made after such a short time in office. He has not even made an effort to meet with Ethiopian-Israeli families whose children or parents are still in Ethiopia and waiting to come here."
He said that Ethiopian organizations had called an emergency meeting for next week in order to discuss a course of action. Neguise added that he did not rule out a large demonstration against the Moroccan-born minister, who he said should not forget "where he comes from."
Sheetrit told the Post Tuesday that the aliya of the Falash Mura -Â¬ people whose Jewish ancestors were forcibly converted to Christianity centuries ago - should be stopped "tomorrow" and that Israel should instead focus on becoming a "real state" and not act as a committee for the Jewish people.
He also accused groups advocating for the arrival of the remaining Falash Mura of having "personal interests" and of "making a living off of this."
Israeli government and Jewish Agency for Israel estimates put at roughly 4,500 the number of people remaining in Ethiopia eligible to immigrate. However, according to Neguise the number is closer to 15,000 people who either have family members here or can prove they are descendents of Jews.
"We will continue our fight for the right of every Jew to make aliya," responded Neguise, adding that, "Israel is the home for all Jews."
In his comments to the Post, Sheetrit also criticized US Jewry for its support of this problematic aliya, which he said was "creating a hell of a job for ourselves."
"If they want to take care of them, take them to America," stated the minister. "I haven't seen them take even one Ethiopian to America and in the meantime, Israel is the only country to get Ethiopians. And we accept them with open hearts."
Nachman Shai, senior vice president of the United Jewish Committee and director general of its Israel operations, said that over the past 20 years, the UJC had been helping tremendously in facilitating the aliya of Ethiopian Jews.
"We are very proud that we can help such people," said Shai of the UJC, which acts as an umbrella organization for Jewish community Federations in the US. "I am very sorry to hear Sheetrit holds such an opinion."
He added that the UJC is committed to the fate and survival of all Jews anywhere in the world.