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Members of the Falash Mura Jewish Ethiopian community attend a prayer service at the HaTikvah Synagogue in Gondar, northern Ethiopia, September 30, 2016.(Photo by: REUTERS/TIKSA NEGERI)
Is the renewed commitment to Ethiopia's remaining Jews just electioneering?
By ILANIT CHERNICK
04/01/2019
Last week prospective MKs and parties said they had re-committed to bring the last of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
Last week, MKs and candidates made a “sweeping commitment” to work toward bringing the remaining Ethiopian Jews to Israel, but the question remains: Was this just electioneering for April 9, or will this promise finally be brought to the forefront by the new government?

The current situation is tearing the Ethiopian community apart. Families have been separated for years and their is concern that they will never be reunited.

Alisa Bodner, spokeswoman for the Struggle for Ethiopian Aliyah movement, told The Jerusalem Post that the current government’s handling of the subject of Ethiopia’s remaining Falash Mura awaiting immigration to Israel “is disgraceful, to say the least.”

She said that despite the government’s unanimous resolution 716 in 2015 –  under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – to bring the remaining Jews of Ethiopia to Israel, “This decision has been stalled over and over again with excuses from the Prime Minister’s Office of ‘we have no budget.’”

“Yet if you turn to the Minister of Finance, you will be assured that there is no problem of budget,” she said.

Resolution 716 states that as the 21st Knesset “We pledge our commitment to work to raise the remaining Ethiopian Jews who are waiting for aliyah to Israel and are torn from their first and second degree relatives.”

According to Bodner, “The sad truth is that immigration to Israel has become limited to the privileged and the ingathering of the remaining Jews of Ethiopia is seen as a burden on the government.”

She explained that the current prime minister “has failed to keep his commitments on this issue, and has thus turned his back on the Ethiopian-Israeli community.” Bodner continued: “Meanwhile, families remain torn apart for 10, 15 and 20 years, despite endless promises. I call upon all the party heads to put an end to this saga. This is our moral and Zionist responsibility.”

Bodner added that they are “preparing the grounds for upscaling our struggle after the elections, should the next government not advance the immigration.

“We need to see action and not just nice promises pre-election,” she said. “We need a prime minister with a moral vision who will keep his/her promises and understand that the Ethiopian-Israeli community is not to be used just for political purposes.”

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post from Africa, A.Y. Katsof head of The Heart of Israel who has dedicated his life to bringing Jews back to their homeland, said that there are a couple Knesset members “who definitely said they would push for this and bring back the last Ethiopian Jews home [to Israel]. We can only hope and pray that will happen.”

Asked about how the Jewish community in Ethiopia are feeling, Katsof said “this is so, so hard” for them.

“The problem is, even when we finally start bringing [a small amount] people here [to Israel] it takes a part the community. So, for example, this week they brought the chazan from the community up, and he lives in Israel and now the community is left without a chazan so what are they supposed to do?” he questioned.

“So it’s nice that you [Israel] brought another 80, but now more than 7,000 are now left without a chazan,” he highlighted. “The community is falling apart and it’s making it even harder, and everybody know that they are going to come – so why delay it? Why waste more time? Why let more people bury their loved ones and not make it?”

“Sometimes you have to pull off the band aid, and not do so slowly, slowly. It’s time that we should just bring them back,” he added.

Asked about whether or not this matter would be brought to the forefront in the week before elections, he said that “Just like any elections, one thing they say and one thing they do. We’ve seen a lot of saying, and less action,” Katsof explained. “Before elections people promise, promise, promise.”

 He said the community are questioning where Likud MK Avraham Neguise, an Ethiopian Jewish immigrant himself, has been, saying that “all of a sudden” now that it’s before elections, “he’s been coming to the airport and receives them. Where was he before?”

During a panel discussion about the matter last week, Neguise and other political candidates re-committed themselves to this cause.

Neguise said that “He does not justify the government’s actions,” adding that “It failed on this issue.”

 “This issue should not be political. The problem lies within the government and not in the politics of the community inside,” he said. “Therefore, it does an injustice to people who make an effort to help and also make politics about people who suffer and this is unacceptable to me.

Neguise said that he sat with the prime minister “and he promised me and issued a statement to the media that he would implement government decision 716 on the condition that he form the government [following the April 9 elections].

“I also expect the other parties that the representatives will stand up and say this,” he added.

On behalf of the Ethiopian Jewish community still stuck in Addis Ababa and Gondor, Katsof has a strong message for the incoming government, prime minister and MKs.

“The reason why the State of Israel was built was to help Jews all around the world and give them a place to come to,” he said. “We didn’t see any quota when we (Israel) tried to bring the Russian Jews, and we didn’t see any quota when we tried to bring any other Jew from around the world. So there’s no reason why the only Jews in the world given a quota are first of all the ones that have a darker skin color than ours, and second of all the ones where most of their relatives are already in Israel.”

Meanwhile, MK Fentahun Seyoum (Kulanu), who also spoke at last week’s panel, said that he entered the Knesset not long ago, “but one of the things I asked about when I joined the party was the issue of aliyah in general and the issue of immigration from Ethiopia in particular.”

“The issue is in the platform of the party of Kulanu and for us it is not a recommendation, but a work plan,” he added.

Elyashiv Reichner, a New Right candidate, said that he was going to push the issue with party co-chairs Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett.

“The two ministers from my party have not raised a serious flag on this issue, but I hope that will change. I will press on the subject and I hope it will change,” he said.

Gadi Yabarkan, from the Blue and White Party, said he had brought the subject up with party leader Benny Gantz and if he is elected prime minister, “it will into the government’s 100-day program.”

“It’s not political,” he said. “It’s a Zionist issue. It’s not black or white.”

MK Amar Bar Lev (Labor) claimed at the panel that this matter “has to do with skin color.”

“It is a disgrace to Zionism that the government did not implement the decision it made,” Bar Lev said.

Also addressing the panel was Rabbi Yosef Hadane, the former chief rabbi of Ethiopian Jewry, who said: “This is a tragedy that the government has torn apart families.

“They are Jews, and indeed they had distanced themselves from religion, but they have [now] returned to it... and it is our duty to receive them back to us and raise them,” he said. “The current government has failed in its promises to raise the remains of Ethiopian Jews and thus betrayed the Ethiopian community and the values of equality, justice and Zionism.”

Falash Mura is the name given to those of the Beta Israel community in Ethiopia and Eritrea who converted to Christianity under pressure from missionaries during the 19th and 20th centuries. Falash Mura brought to Israel all undergo conversion to Judaism.
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