Why search for potential Jews when there are Jews knocking on your door?

An open letter to Minister Naftali Bennett

A SIGN for a Jewish village in Ethiopia (photo credit: REUTERS)
A SIGN for a Jewish village in Ethiopia
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week, a committee appointed by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry which you head made public a report recommending that the government strengthen ties with a potential 60 million individuals worldwide who have some “affinity” to Judaism. According to the 152-page report, this includes individuals who “do not even see themselves as Jewish.”
Minister Bennett, why are you investing in a plan to seek out potential Jews when the government has still not upheld its previous rulings to bring the remaining 8,000 members of the Jewish community in Ethiopia to Israel, who have been waiting in some cases for over 20 years to receive approval from the Israeli government to immigrate to Israel and reunite with their loved ones.
On November 11, 2015, the government issued a unanimous decision (No. 716) to bring the remaining Jews of Ethiopia, who at that time numbered approximately 9,000, to Israel within five years. The decision called for the establishment of a committee, to include the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office and other government representatives, within 60 days of the decision. That committee was never formed. Furthermore, the decision was later rejected, due to claims that the government could not find a budget to bring the remaining Jews of Ethiopia to Israel.
A subsequent decision was passed on August 11, 2016, which approved the immigration of 1,300 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 2017. Clause five of that decision also called for the subject of the continuation of immigration to be brought forward for government approval and discussion within the framework of the 2019 budget, should the Immigration Authority determine that there are more than 1,300 individuals eligible for immigration.
During a State Control Committee hearing on February 12, 2018, the director general of the Immigration Authority, Prof. Shlomo Mor Yosef, stated that, “The maximum number of potential immigrants from Ethiopia, without checking, stands at 7,691.” Despite prior government decisions and the facts on the ground, the continuation of the Ethiopian immigration was left out of the 2019 budget, that was passed in mid-March.
The cabinet continues to delay immigration from Ethiopia due to budgetary claims. An OECD report that was published on March 11, 2018, reported that, “Israel’s economy continues to register remarkable macroeconomic and fiscal performance. Growth is strong and unemployment low and falling.” The labor market “is close to or at full employment.”
During war and economic challenges, Israel opened its gates to myriads of immigrants from the four corners of the Earth. According to a 2017 report issued by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, since 1948, 3.2 million immigrants have arrived in Israel, a country that now has approximately 8.5 million residents. In 1991, Israel absorbed over 14,000 Jews from Ethiopia in under two days. As an immigrant country that has a thriving economy, why can Israel not find a budget to bring the remaining 8,000 Jews from Ethiopia to Israel?
The approximately 8,000 Jews remaining in Ethiopia are divided between Addis Ababa and Gondar. These are descendants of Jews who underwent forced conversion to Christianity over a century ago and who have since returned to strict adherence to Jewish practice. Over 70% have first-degree relatives in Israel. Over 20 years ago, the Interior Ministry separated families and made promises that those who were left behind would join their remaining family members in Israel in just a few weeks’ time; over 20 years later, the family members in Israel have served their country in the military while sisters and brothers, sons and daughters and mothers and fathers left behind in Ethiopia are still waiting for the promises of the Interior Ministry.
Tigabu Worku, the cantor of the synagogue in Addis Ababa, who has been separated for over 18 years from his two sisters who immigrated to Israel in 1999, stated in a recent interview, “20 years already have passed since we have left the city in order to immigrate to Israel, not to wait for 20 years. Our hearts are in pain. When we sing ‘Next Year in Jerusalem,’ this is what we yearn for.”
Minister Bennett, if you are so concerned about bringing more Jews to Israel, then why don’t you lobby the government and your own cabinet to adhere to decisions it has already passed regarding immigration of Jews who speak Hebrew, pray three times per day and observe Jewish law? Minister Bennett, instead of searching the world for people with a possible “affinity” to Judaism, I suggest you pay attention to the cries of the 8,000 Jews who are knocking on your door, begging for you to hear their voices and to join you, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
The author is the spokesperson to foreign media for the advocacy organization The Struggle for Ethiopian Aliyah. She can be reached at [email protected]