By RUTH EGLASH
Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis will gather in the capital on Sunday morning to protest the government's failure to reach a decision or raise a discussion on the immigration of some 8,700 Ethiopian Jews still waiting to make aliya.
The main point of frustration, say community members here - many of whom have close relatives still living in Ethiopia - is the continued refusal by the government to put the controversial aliya on its current agenda.
According to a spokesman for Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), who has repeatedly expressed support for bringing in the Falash Mura - Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors were forcibly converted to Christianity centuries ago - the minister has tried at least twice to schedule the matter on the weekly cabinet meeting. Both times, last week and this coming week, the subject was removed from the line-up.
Yishai's spokesman blamed factions in the Likud for preventing the debate from reaching the cabinet.
Also exasperated over the government's failure to adequately address this issue is Ethiopian MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima), who is planning to submit a private members bill on Sunday that would outline in law the timeframe the government has to bring the remaining eligible Falash Mura on aliya.
"It seems that the prime minister is against the aliya of the Falash Mura," said former Supreme Court justice Meir Shamgar, who spearheads the Public Council for Ethiopian Jews, a lobby group that has been increasingly pressuring the government to move forward with the stalled immigration.
"I believe that we have to bring these people here and I will continue to pressure the government and force them to change the current decision," he said.
Last month, Molla, at the request of Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud), traveled to Ethiopia with two other MKs to assess the situation there. The delegation reported that despite clear government directives to continue the flow of aliya and a State Comptroller's Office report urging the government to bring in the people based on humanitarian concerns, the immigration process of some 8,700 people has not moved forward in more than a year.
Renewed pressure to address Ethiopian aliya comes two-and-a-half years after it was officially announced that immigration from there was close to completion. In July 2007, senior Jewish Agency officials in Ethiopia said that all remaining Ethiopian Jews eligible under government criteria would be in Israel within one year. Six months later the Interior Ministry recalled it's Gondar-based staff.
However, subsequent protests from local community members, representatives of North American Jewry and several key Israeli legislators pointed out that thousands more Falash Mura still needed to be assessed for immigration. This caused the government to rethink its decision. In September 2008, the Interior Ministry announced that it would return its representatives to Ethiopia.
Despite that move, Molla and those involved in facilitating aliya from Ethiopia claim that not one member of the Falash Mura community has been brought to Israel in the past year. The Knesset's State Control Committee last month threatened to hold a parliamentary inquiry into why the process has stalled and will discuss the matter in the coming weeks.
In a written response to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office said this issue has not yet been brought up in the cabinet meeting because "we are talking about a change in policy of a previous government's decision and it therefore must be approved by all ministries involved in the matter."
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