Ethiopian-Israeli IDF vets slam Netanyahu over decision to airlift only 2,000

50 Ethiopian-Israeli officers and former soldiers, with parents and siblings waiting in camps, say government is violating 2015 resolution to bring whole community by end of 2020

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Ethiopian families are reunited on October 9, 2016, as the first group of Ethiopian immigrants arrives at Ben Gurion airport since the government announced the "end" of Ethiopian aliyah in August 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Ethiopian families are reunited on October 9, 2016, as the first group of Ethiopian immigrants arrives at Ben Gurion airport since the government announced the "end" of Ethiopian aliyah in August 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A group of officers and former soldiers whose parents and siblings have been waiting to emigrate from Ethiopia to Israel for more than 15 years say a government plan to bring over 2,000 members of the Falash Mura community falls well short of years-old government promises to allow the remainder of the community to move here.

In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the 50 signatories accuse him of violating his own government’s 2015 resolution to bring all remaining community members to Israel by the end of this year.

Netanyahu on Thursday announced plans to airlift 2,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel later this year. The NIS 370 million plan, which Netanyahu discussed with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Friday, was approved by the government at a Monday cabinet meeting.

But relatives and community activists say there are some 9,000 immigrants who have been waiting for 15 years or more to emigrate from Gondar and the capital Addis Ababa. (The government says 8,000 are waiting).

Members of the Falash Mura Jewish Ethiopian community wait for prayer service before attending the Passover seder meal, in the synagogue in Gondar, Ethiopia, April 22, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

In Sunday’s letter to Netanyahu, the group accused Netanyahu of “continuing neglect” of his promises to the community.

“We are 50 career soldiers and veterans signed on this letter. Among us are more than 35 officers and former combat soldiers. Each of us has siblings or parents who have been awaiting immigration to Israel for over a decade, and we are disappointed over and over by your failure to keep your promises regarding the immigration of our family members.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Jerusalem on September 1, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom/PMO)

The letter listed several promises that it said Likud had failed to uphold, including a party statement from earlier this year ahead of March elections in which the party said bringing the rest of the community to Israel would be a central plank of its government, to be approved within 100 days.

No such plan was later included in a coalition agreement laying out the current government’s authorities.

“It is unfathomable that [Jewish] immigration from around the world continues, while only quotas and limits are placed on immigration of Ethiopian Jews. How does the decision to allow only 2,000 immigrants from Ethiopia ease the pain we are experiencing? Who will decide which mother will be permitted to immigrate and reunite with her children, and which mother will not be included in the evil quota,” read the letter.

“The immediate immigration of our siblings and parents is a moral obligation of the State of Israel,” it continued. “We will not sit in silence as you turn our pain into a political game.”

In a Facebook post, reserve soldier Gelagay Alemayehu demanded of Netanyahu that “promises should be kept!”

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פורסם על ידי ‏המאבק להעלאת יהודי אתיופיה‏ ב- יום שני, 7 בספטמבר 2020

People working with the community in Ethiopia say it is facing a humanitarian disaster due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Neither the Israeli government nor the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish relief organization, is sending support. The Jewish Agency, which has no authority to airlift people without a government decision, has, however, been helping what appears to be the sole organization to be raising some funds and providing aid on the ground — the volunteer-based Struggle To Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ).

The coronavirus has hit the group very hard economically, The Times of Israel has been told by several sources. Work has dried up and food is in short supply, with prices up by 35 to 50 to percent; families in Israel who previously sent their relatives money are strapped for cash because of their own COVID-19-related problems, and philanthropic organizations are less able to raise donations due to the pandemic.

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