Likud suppports continued Ethiopian aliya

Survey: Most members of party think past delays have been due to racism.

ethiopian aliyah 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ethiopian aliyah 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The overwhelming majority of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party supports the continued aliya of the Falash Mura community from Ethiopia and a lesser majority believes that delays to their immigration over the past few years stem from discrimination and racism, according to a report received by The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Commissioned by the Public Committee on Ethiopian Jewry, which is headed by former Supreme Court judge Meir Shamgar and includes high profile members such as Canadian parliamentarian Irwin Cotler and Chief Rabbi of Ethiopian Jews in Israel Yosef Adaneh, the study is the first of its kind to focus exclusively on the ruling Likud party’s attitudes toward the controversial aliya.
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Some 93 percent out of 600 Likud members questioned for the telephone survey last Wednesday and Thursday agreed with the statement that those waiting in Ethiopia to make aliya should be brought to Israel.
In addition, 62% of those who responded said they believed that delays to the aliya of the Falash Mura stemmed from racism and discrimination by those in decision making positions of the current government.
“I think support for bringing [to Israel] the remnants of Beta Yisrael [the Ethiopian Jewish community] is much stronger than people realize,” Cotler commented to the Post on Sunday.
“In Likud there seems to be broad support, especially now that people understand the facts, and some of the mythology surrounding Ethiopian Jews has been dispelled.”
He added that the study was crucial in that it would hopefully show Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that, along with several large organizations working with Ethiopian Jewry – including the Jewish Agency for Israel – Ethiopian Jewish leaders and the general public, even his own party, are in favor of wrapping up this aliya and bringing the last remaining Jews to Israel.
The study comes just one day after Immigrant Absorption Minister Sopha Landver reached Ethiopia for a four-day visit to assess the situation and after recent recommendations by JAFI’s director of immigrant absorption, Eli Cohen, to immediately start winding down the process.
“We are moving in the right direction and the convergence of a number of elements, including support from [JAFI Executive Chairman] Sharansky is working in our favor,” said Cotler, adding: “There is now broad support among Knesset members and there is a unity among Ethiopian Jews in Israel about bringing them here as soon as possible.”
Aliya of the Falash Mura – Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity more than a century ago but who have been deemed Jews by the Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar – has been met with controversy and suspicion over the past two years. The ongoing debate over their right to immigrate has included concerns over the increasing costs and social problems of the Ethiopian immigration process, as well as fears that it will never end.
Due to these concerns, more than 8,000 people have continued to await Israeli government inspections in the northern Ethiopian town of Gondar, causing what some have described as a growing humanitarian crisis.
Despite the fact that Israeli government inspectors returned there last September in order to continue the checks of a specific group of 3,000 Falash Mura, less than 250 people have arrived in Israel over the past year, said Joseph Feit, former president of the North American Coalition on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ), which provides aid and resources to those waiting in Gondar and which has been actively lobbying the government on this issue.
“This study is relevant because it will show the prime minister that members of his own party support this aliya,” said Feit, adding: “I hope that he will take into account the views of his own party members.”
According to Cotler, those waiting in Gondar have a “fundamental right to be checked for eligibility to make aliya” and “it is the responsibility of the government to determine that eligibility.”
“This has been a long protracted period with a lot of pain and suffering over the years, but I believe progress is now being made and we are moving towards a resolution,” he said, adding: “It’s time to do the right thing and put final touches on the chapter.”
The Prime Minister’s Office did not immediately respond to the study.