A Jewish teenager from Ethiopia who has reached the final stages of the annual International Bible Quiz in Israel will reportedly have to deposit thousands of shekels in order take part in the contest as a guarantee that he will leave the country after it ends.
Sintayehu Shafrao, 18, from Gondar in Ethiopia, who reportedly has siblings in Israel, will be representing Ethiopians who claim Jewish descent, known as Falashmura, in the competition, held as part of Israel’s Independence Day celebrations.
Israeli Ethiopian activists have already taken him to meet with several ministers and Knesset lawmakers, and he was photographed with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
The Interior Ministry regularly demands such deposits from Ethiopian Falashmura visiting Jewish relatives in Israel, Channel 10 news reported Monday.
לאחר הכתבה המצויינת של @BranuTegene – סינטיהו שיפראו, מסורב עלייה עם אחים בישראל, נציג יהודי אתיופיה בחידון התנ"ך, קיים סדרת פגישות הבוקר בכנסת ישראל יחד עם שרים וח"כים בליווי פעילי מטה המאבק להעלאת יהודי אתיופיה. pic.twitter.com/iC8SDlPv9v
— אורי פרדניק (@uripered) April 8, 2018
That is despite a government decision to bring all 9,000 remaining Falashmura from Ethiopia to Israel — a decision that is dependent on state funds being made available.
Last month, the Knesset passed the 2019 state budget with no allocation for Ethiopian immigration. The immigration and its funding are reportedly slated to be discussed at a future inter-ministerial meeting.
Avi Yalou, an Israeli Ethiopian community activist, said Shafrao wanted to immigrate like the rest of the community still in Ethiopia. He described Shafrao’s treatment as “classic racism” and linked it to the government’s determination to deport asylum-seekers and the lack of visible moves to free Averu Mengistu — a mentally ill Israeli of Ethiopian descent — who has been held by the Gaza terror group Hamas since September 2014.
Posting a photograph on his Facebook page of Shafrao meeting with Shaked, Yalou wrote that the young Ethiopian youth was “apparently Jewish enough for the justice minister to be photographed with him but not Jewish enough to be allowed to immigrate with another 9,000 Jews who are waiting in Addis Ababa to come to Israel.”
He added, “Leave the photos and let our brothers and sisters immigrate to Israel.”
The Falashmura claim links to descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity generations ago and now seek to return to Judaism. The Interior Ministry accepts them as immigrants under the Law of Return, which is less restrictive than religious Jewish law.
In August, the government reiterated that it would bring 9,000 Falashmura to Israel by the end of 2020.
The Knesset in November 2015 had unanimously approved a plan to bring them over following a public campaign launched by the nation’s Ethiopian community and volunteer organizations. At the same time, it announced that it would be the last round of Ethiopian immigration. Many of those waiting to immigrate have family already in Israel. Some have been waiting for 20 years to come to Israel. The live in Gondar and in Addis Ababa.
About 135,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today. Some 22,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel during Operation Moses in 1984 and Operation Solomon in 1991.
JTA contributed this report.