'Last' Falash Mura arrive, group slams gov't for leaving behind thousands of Jews

Critics argue that number of those calling themselves Falash Mura grows constantly as impoverished non-Jews seek better life in Israel.

ethiopians sigd 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
ethiopians sigd 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
As the last organized flight of Ethiopian Jewry landed in Israel on Tuesday, the government faced harsh criticism from advocates for continued aliya who said Israel was "abandoning" up to 8,700 Jews. According to the Public Committee for Ethiopian Jewry, some 8,700 members of the Falash Mura, who converted to Christianity a century ago and have been undergoing conversions through Israel's Chief Rabbinate in order to make aliya, were left in Ethiopia and have not yet been examined for aliya eligibility. Due to their questionable status as Jews, the Falash Mura were not airlifted with the Beit Yisrael group of Ethiopian Jews during Operation Solomon in 1991. Critics, many within the government, argue that the number of those calling themselves Falash Mura grows constantly as impoverished non-Jews seek a better life in Israel. But advocates for Falash Mura immigration point out that the group has been recognized as former Jews by Israel's chief rabbis, and that they undergo an Orthodox conversion upon arriving in Israel. "Leaving [the Falash Mura] in Ethiopia is unethical and not Jewish," read a statement by the public committee, an organization that boasts as honorary president the former Supreme Court chief justice Meir Shamgar, and also includes noted rabbis and intellectuals among its membership. The committee called on the government "to end the injustice toward thousands of Jews who are waiting [in Ethiopia] in difficult conditions and are making every effort to return to the religion of their fathers and to make aliya to Israel." The Tuesday airlift drew to a close the state-organized campaign that brought some 120,000 immigrants from Ethiopia over the past three decades. A government spokesperson said in a statement that the Tuesday flight brought an end to the government's commitment from February 2005 to determine the eligibility for aliya of 17,188 members of the Falash Mura. The government was committed to implementing a High Court of Justice's demand to examine the eligibility of a few hundred more. As for the thousands which Falash Mura advocates say should be examined and possibly accepted for aliya, the government would deal with them on an individual basis, the statement added. "I don't think the aliya is over," Jewish Agency chairman Ze'ev Bielski said Tuesday, noting that a cabinet-level meeting last week chaired by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had decided to examine ways to continue the immigration. "Every individual instance will be checked on its merits," Bielski added, "and we believe more will come." In any case, he promised, the Jewish Agency would execute whatever policy the Israeli government chooses regarding those left in Ethiopia, and in the meantime would leave behind an office and staff on the ground in the east African country. Meanwhile, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said Tuesday that he had completed his own investigation of the government's handling of the Falash Mura immigration and had presented copies to Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar and other government leaders for their response. Lindenstrauss said the report would be presented in a few days to the Knesset State Control Committee, which had asked him to conduct the investigation. Dan Izenberg and JTA contributed to this report.