Absorption minister won’t back budget without funding for Ethiopia immigration

Pnina Tamano-Shata says Treasury only willing to finance immigration of some 1,000 community members, whereas she is demanding money for 4,000

Ethiopian Immigrants arrive in Israel as part of Operation Tzur Israel, March 11, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Ethiopian Immigrants arrive in Israel as part of Operation Tzur Israel, March 11, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata warned on Thursday that she would not support the upcoming state budget unless the Finance Ministry agrees to her demand for increased funding to bring Ethiopian immigrants to Israel.

“I will never allow them to continue to abuse the Ethiopian community and abandon them at the bottom of the government’s list of priorities,” Tamano-Shata wrote on Twitter. “Those waiting dozens of years to make aliyah from Ethiopia and their families in Israel have suffered enough.”

“I will oppose any budget that does not support significant immigration — even if I have to resign from the government and return to the Knesset to vote against their abandonment,” she warned.

Tamano-Shata is the latest minister to threaten to torpedo the budget, which must pass by November or spell the automatic dissolution of the government. With the coalition operating on a razor-thin majority, almost every lawmaker has the ability to bring the government down if their demands are not met.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said earlier this month that he will present the 2021-2022 state budget for a cabinet vote during the first week of August, with the aim of having the Knesset pass it by the November deadline.

Liberman said he believes the budget will pass because even most of the opposition does not want a fresh round of elections. Israel held four elections within two years amid political gridlock. The last budget that was passed, for 2019, was voted upon in March 2018.

Blue and White parliament member Pnina Tamano-Shata (C) speaks during a discussion on a bill to dissolve the parliament, at the Knesset December 11, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Tamano-Shata told the Ynet news site that the treasury was only offering funding to bring some 1,000 people to Israel whereas she was demanding money for 4,000. “We are not talking about trading in people, it’s saving them, she told Ynet.

In March, Israel completed an effort to bring some 2,000 members of the community to Israel from Ethiopia in what has been dubbed Operation Tzur Israel which began in December.

Tamano-Shata, who arrived in Israel as a young girl in Operation Moses airlift, a 1984 airlift that brought 6,000 Ethiopian Jews to the country from Sudan, said their plight was a priority for her Blue and White party and the refusal of the finance ministry to fund it was a violation of the coalition agreement.

Community members and activists have held several protests urging the government to approve the immigration of the rest of the community, thought to number between 7,000 and 12,000, many of whom are endangered by the recent outbreak of war in the northern Tigray region.

In this photo from the Jewish Agency, Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (left) and Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog (center) greet 119 new immigrants from Ethiopia at Ben Gurion Airport, May 21, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem)

About 9,000 of the would-be immigrants have been waiting for 15 or more years to immigrate, local activists say. About a quarter of that number, located in the capital Addis Ababa, have been waiting for more than 20 years, they say, while the rest, in Ethiopia’s second city Gondar, have been hanging on for 15 to 20 years.

In 2013, the Jewish Agency declared the end of Ethiopian aliyah, prompting protests by Ethiopian lawmakers and community members in Israel.

In November 2015, the government passed a decision to airlift “the last of the community” waiting in Addis Ababa and Gondar to Israel within five years.

Since that decision, however, a few thousand Ethiopians have been brought, in dribs and drabs, according to Jewish Agency figures.

While Ethiopian Jewish immigrants from the Beta Israel community are recognized as fully Jewish, immigrants from Ethiopia belonging to the smaller Falash Mura community are required to undergo Orthodox conversion after immigrating. The Falash Mura are Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity, often under duress, generations ago. Some 30,000 of them have immigrated to Israel since 1997, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Because the Interior Ministry does not consider the Falash Mura to be Jewish, they cannot immigrate under the Law of Return, and therefore must get special permission from the government to move to Israel.

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