Falash Mura bill ready for hearing

Gov't would be compelled to check aliya rights of 10,000 waiting in Gondar.

falash mura 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
falash mura 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
A bill that could force the Interior Ministry to continue evaluating the rights of some 10,000 Falash Mura in Ethiopia to make aliya will be presented to the Knesset plenum for a preliminary reading Wednesday. Lawmakers and advocates hope the move will prompt the government to reverse its policy on the matter. Exactly a year ago, the government and the Jewish Agency announced they were winding down immigration operations in Ethiopia, and in January the Interior Ministry recalled its representative from the country. However, according to some members of Israel's Ethiopian community and a growing number of politicians, there are still thousands of Falash Mura - people whose ancestors converted to Christianity under duress more than 100 years ago - remaining in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar who fit government criteria for immigration but who have not had their cases examined by the government. They have already been determined to be Jews by both of Israel's chief rabbis and many have close relatives living here. "This is the first time in Israel's history that there are Jews waiting in camps to make aliya but the state is not willing to even check their right to come here," the bill's sponsor, Likud MK Michael Eitan, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday. "It's a real embarrassment, especially after [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert reminded [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown how the British had stopped Jews from emigrating here before the creation of the state." Eitan, whose legislation is supported by more than 40 MKs from across the political spectrum, criticized the government for reneging on a decision made in 2003 by prime minister Ariel Sharon allowing the Falash Mura to make aliya under a special clause in the Law of Entry. "Both chief rabbis of Israel have confirmed that these people are Jews and the government under Sharon decided to let them come here, but the current government wants to break down the camps [in Gondar] and send the people waiting there back to their villages," said Eitan, whose bill to create an Ethiopian heritage center in Israel was passed a preliminary reading this week. If his Falash Mura bill passes its preliminary reading it will be sent to a Knesset committee, most likely the Committee for Aliya, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, for further debate. A spokesman for Eitan said if the bill becomes law, the government would be obligated to check the cases of at least 10,000 people within four months. Eitan told the Post it was not essential for the bill to receive final approval, only that the issue be raised for discussion in the cabinet, which has repeatedly promised to look into the matter but has not indicated a willingness to reverse its policy. "I want to be able to sit down with the government and find a solution to this crisis before this bill even reaches the final stages," Eitan said. "Some say this aliya will never end," he added. "But I ask, is there an end to Zionism? There should never be an end to the flow of aliya." Joseph Feit, former president of the North American Coalition on Ethiopian Jewry, which has been providing aid and resources to those waiting in Gondar, told the Post that with the future of the government unclear, anchoring a decision on the issue in law would mean "we do not have to worry who will take over in the future."