ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Israel’s only Ethiopian-born lawmaker expressed disappointment here Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic visit to the East African country did not include a tour of its Jewish institutions or meetings with representatives of the local Jewish community.
On Thursday morning, MK Avraham Neguise was sitting in the Israeli delegation’s hotel together with two local Jewish leaders, Melese Sedeto from Addis Ababa and Ambanesh Tekeba from Gondar, hoping for a last-minute meeting with the prime minister. But Netanyahu had already left the hotel on his way to meetings with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and President Mulatu Teshome.
“Yes, I am disappointed because I feel that [Jewish community institutions] could have been on the itinerary,” said Neguise, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party. It was understandable if a visit at a Jewish site was not planned for practical reasons, he allowed. “But it is possible to meet a delegation of the leadership of the Jewish community here (at the hotel). Two or three members of the community. He can meet a delegation.”
Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to visit Ethiopia, the native country of a significant segment of Israeli society.
Neguise, who chairs the Knesset’s immigration and absorption committee, also called on the government to implement an agreement struck earlier this year to bring to Israel some 1,300 Ethiopians who are waiting for a green light to immigrate, and vowed to resume his struggle to force the government to speed up the immigration process.
“We have a big problem,” he said — not with a lack of political will, he added, but rather with bureaucracy. “I think the problem is with the civil servants in the government: in the Finance Ministry and also inside the Prime Minister’s Office. They have economic considerations. They are trying many ways to stop the coming of these people. And we’re not giving up. We continue our struggle.”
There are approximately 9,000 people in Ethiopia who are currently seeking to immigrate to Israel. The government decided in principle to facilitate their immigration but the process has since ground to a halt.
For a period earlier this year, Neguise and his Likud colleague MK David Amsalem refused to participate in coalition votes, demanding that the government implement its stated policy to bring the remaining aliyah candidates to Israel. Eventually, the government agreed to bring 1,300 Ethiopians by the end of 2016. This process was to start in June but has yet to begin.
Neguise came to Israel from Ethiopia in 1985 and founded an organization to advance Ethiopian immigration. He entered the Knesset for the first time last year having joined Likud in 2013.
He said he had not recently met with the prime minister, but that Netanyahu’s aides have assured him that the prime minister is committed to the agreement.
“These people who are waiting here, 85 percent of them have first-degree family members in Israel: parents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. So, why are they just neglecting this issue?” he asked.
“Israel will be blessed and proud of its actions if it brings these people and reunites them with their families in Israel,” he said. “This is the right thing to do.”