Jewish Agency allocates funds to bring remaining Ethiopians

$4.7 million allocated to bring 8,700 Falash Mura olim who claim Jewish ancestry; Chief Rabbis Amar, Ovadia confirm Jewish credentials.

Falash Mura 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Falash Mura 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Jewish Agency for Israel on Tuesday allocated $4.7 million to help bring the remaining 8,700 Ethiopians claiming Jewish ancestry and seeking to make aliya from the African country to Israel.
The vote at the organization’s Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem was held in anticipation of a cabinet meeting set to take place early next week, in which the government is expected to approve the absorption of the would-be olim waiting in transit camps.
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If the government authorizes the entrance of these potential olim, known as Falash Mura, it will wrap up more than two years of haranguing between various political bodies who have expressed concerns that immigration from Ethiopia will never end.
“Credit for the plan is shared with the prime minister and Interior Ministry, who are interested in reaching a resolution of this issue,” Eli Cohen, the Jewish Agency official who brokered the deal that would bring the Falash Mura to Israel, said Tuesday.
“We also received approval from Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who confirmed the Ethiopians’ Jewish credentials. This solution will solve a long-standing humanitarian issue and unite families.”
The special budget was unanimously approved by the board and will be spread out over a three-year period.
One of the demands by Israel and Ethiopia was that the Jewish Agency take responsibility for the transition camps in Ethiopia from the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, Jewish Agency sources said.
In the past, NACOEJ had been criticized for allowing the camps to refill with new would-be olim every time its previous inhabitants were allowed entry to Israel.
“I know there are skeptics, but these will be the last Ethiopians coming to Israel in such a manner,” Cohen said. “From that point on, aliya will be no different from Belgium or the US.”
Meanwhile, earlier on Tuesday, the Jewish Agency’s new strategic direction passed another hurdle when the Board of Governors okayed the more detailed proposal of the plan it had approved in principle back in June.
The proposal, which would shift the organization’s focus from aliya to building Jewish identity through Jewish education in Israel and the Diaspora, passed overwhelmingly with only two objections out of 130 votes.
“It’s a new day,” a source in the organization said. “There are still many structural questions, but we’re very optimistic.”
Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.