Ethiopian-Israelis to protest end of aliya tomorrow

Members of the community will hold aloft images of their loved ones who will remain in Gondar.

Ethiopian Israelis demonstrate outside PMO in J'lem 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ethiopian Israelis demonstrate outside PMO in J'lem 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ethiopian-Israelis are planning a protest outside of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office at the same time that a plane representing the official end of Ethiopian aliya is scheduled to land at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday.
At the protest, which is being organized by activist Avraham Neguise as well as through Facebook, members of the Ethiopian community will hold aloft images of their loved ones who will remain in Gondar following the closure of the Jewish Agency’s facilities there.
According to activist Yitzhak Sokoloff, who recently came back from a visit at the Gondar refugee center, protests by some of the members of the Falash Mura community being left behind have resulted in some of the facilities in the camp being kept open for at least another month following Wednesday’s final flight.
An agency official confirmed that the synagogue in Gondar will remain open at least until the upcoming holidays are passed and that those remaining will have access to Torah scrolls for at least that period of time.
The Falash Mura are the descendants of members of the Ethiopian Beta Israel community who converted to Christianity. Many currently live in Israel, where they have undergone conversion.
However, according to Neguise, who spoke with The Jerusalem Report last year, “of the 459 individuals in Addis Ababa with first-degree relatives in Israel, 177 have either parents or grandparents in Israel, 53 have children here, and 124 have brothers and sisters.”
While the remaining Falash Mura are not Jewish according to traditional religious definitions, among them, many activists say, are individuals who would qualify as Jewish under the law of return, which stipulates that one only need have a grandparent who is Jewish to qualify.
However, it may not be that simple, as too much time has passed and insufficient documentation exists to prove a Jewish genealogy to the satisfaction of the Interior Ministry.
The ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office – not the agency – are responsible for making the decision as to who can come and who stays.
Neither the ministry nor the Prime Minister’s Office would comment on the matter.
Uri Perednik, another activist who has spent significant time in Ethiopia and who is one of the organizers of the protest, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that he hopes to reach a thousand protesters.
Those who will be protesting, he says, are young Ethiopians who grew up and served in the IDF, are accepted as Jews and “are told that their brothers back in Ethiopia aren’t Jewish.”
Without getting into the issue of whether the Falash Mura should have been brought in the first place – he considers it justified – Perednik said: “They have proven themselves in Israel as complete Jews.”
The debate is “irrelevant now,” he said. “It’s about finishing it right, finishing it without destroying the lives of people.”
“Something is very wrong when a whole family has been brought to Israel and one of the family is staying behind. It’s terrible for the families in Israel.”
Only those who have sold their belongings, have first-degree relatives in Israel and have returned to the practice of Judaism should come, he asserted, saying his stance is not an open-ended invitation to any villager who wants to improve his economic lot to immigrate.
Ageru Asmamaw, an Ethiopian immigrant who recently returned from teaching Judaism to aliya hopefuls in Gondar, concurs.
Calling the decision to finish at this point what the agency is calling operation Wings of a Dove “erroneous,” Asmamaw said that Israel cannot “leave families split and say we finished. I say to you that the aliya is not finished.
There are still families, parents and children who are split, half a family here and half there.”