AG said to flag Ethiopian aliya as issue in light of Arab family reunification

AG said to flag Ethiopian aliya as issue in light of Arab family reunification

As cabinet approves immigration of 1,000 Falashmura relatives of Israelis, Mandelblit reportedly notes difficulty in justifying different treatment of other communities

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference in Jerusalem on February 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference in Jerusalem on February 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has warned the cabinet that plans to bring members of the Falashmura community to Israel from Ethiopia could make it difficult to legally justify Israeli policies against other family reunifications, Haaretz reported Monday.

At Sunday’s cabinet meeting ministers approved a plan that will allow around 1,000 members of the Falashmura with relatives in Israel to immigrate.

But in a letter to ministers Mandelblit warned: “The more decisions are made on the Ethiopian community… the more a difference emerges between their treatment and that of two similar groups: the descendants of Jews who are not eligible under the Law of Return and foreigners who enter Israel for family reunification with Israelis. And the legal difficulty in justifying this grows.”

He noted that this “unquantifiable” difficulty should be “taken into account,” though he did not outright object to the cabinet plan.

Family reunification in Israel typically involves an Israeli citizen requesting citizenship for his or her non-Israeli spouse. Most unification applications are submitted by Israeli Arabs on behalf of a Palestinian spouse living in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

Receiving approval for such requests is notoriously difficult. The process of family reunification for Palestinians has been made more stringent in recent years due to concerns it was being abused by terror groups to gain access to Israel.

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich also raised an objection to the cabinet’s plan, sending a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he warned of a possible danger to Israel’s Jewish character through “excessive widening of the circle of family members eligible to immigrate to Israel.”

He predicted that “such practice could develop into demands to bring in more and more relatives, further and further removed, since the moment relatives immigrate, they themselves become an anchor for demands by their own relatives.

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich at his party’s weekly faction meeting at the Knesset, December 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“How will the state explain to the High Court its distinction between immigrants from the Falashmura community and [others]?” he asked.

Falashmura are Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity, often under duress, generations ago.

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

There are approximately 8,000 tribe members in Ethiopia with close relatives in Israel who are waiting to immigrate. It remains unclear what will happen to the remaining 7,000 people.

The community says the process for immigration approval is poorly executed and inaccurate, dividing families. At least 80 percent of the tribe members in Ethiopia say they have first-degree relatives living in Israel, and some have been waiting for 20 years to immigrate.

Israelis who immigrated from Ethiopia hold up family photos of loved ones who remain in Ethiopia during a protest to bring the rest of the Falashmura in Jerusalem, on March 20, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In November 2015, the government unanimously adopted a plan to bring the remaining Ethiopians to Israel by 2020. But the plan faltered within months when the Prime Minister’s Office refused to implement it because the NIS 1 billion it said was needed to fund the absorption process was not in the state budget.

In 2017, the Finance Ministry launched the first step of the plan, allocating funds for 1,300 to emigrate to Israel. All 1,300 arrived in the country just before the end of that year, on flights sponsored by the International Christian Embassy as part of its program to support Jewish immigration to Israel.

The plan was thrown into doubt again this year after the government passed the 2019 state budget with no allocation for Ethiopian immigration. The immigration and its funding reportedly is slated to be discussed at a future inter-ministerial meeting; no date has been set.

About 135,000 Ethiopian Jews currently live in Israel. Some 22,000 of them were airlifted to Israel during Operation Moses in 1984 and Operation Solomon in 1991.

AP and Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.

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