At least 1,000 Ethiopian Jews still living in Ethiopia will be able to immigrate to Israel in the coming year, after the Prime Minister’s Office and the Interior Ministry said on Monday they had worked out an initial list of potential immigrants and expected to approve them within four weeks.
There are approximately 8,000 Jews in Ethiopia with close relatives in Israel who are waiting to emigrate.
The last flight of Ethiopian immigrants arrived in Israel on December 28, 2017, bringing part of the 1,300 immigrants which arrived in 2017. But the cabinet did not approve the approximately NIS 200 million needed to absorb the 1,300 immigrants planned to arrive 2018, putting a hold on the flights.
“I am serving the state and fighting the state at the same time,” Belaynich Indishu, who was a soldier in the Duvduvan combat unit and now works in security for the government, told the Knesset meeting on Monday. Indishu moved to Israel in 2007 and has two sisters still in Ethiopia. “For what? So that I can’t be with my sisters?”
MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor), chairwoman of the State Control Committee which held the meeting, praised the announcement as an “achievement.”
“The suffering of 6,000 people in Gondar and Addis Ababa goes on for no apparent reason,” she said. “We’re not talking about budget issues but ethical issues. There are forces in the government that are not interested in bringing them to Israel because they do not consider them Jewish, and the motivation here, unfortunately, is racism.”
Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director general of the Population Immigration and Borders Authority, the branch of the Interior Ministry dealing with this issue, said that the Interior Ministry’s employees were not racists but were simply implementing the government’s decisions.
He said the group expected to immigrate to Israel in 2018 will consist of approximately 1,000 parents and children, focusing on parents who already have some children in Israel.
In November 2015, the government announced it would bring to Israel the remaining Ethiopian Jews awaiting immigration. The Finance Ministry allocated money for 1,300 Ethiopians to immigrate in 2017, the first step of a five-year program to bring new immigrants at a rate of approximately 100 per month.
The Jews left behind in Ethiopia are classified as Falashmura, a term for Ethiopian Jews whose 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 therefore must get special permission from the government to move to Israel. Critics fear that tens of thousands of Ethiopians could claim eligibility under this process.
The community counters that the process to determine their Jewishness was poorly executed and inaccurate, dividing families. At least 80 percent of the Jews in Ethiopia have first-degree relatives living in Israel, they say.
In August 2013, the government announced the “end” of Ethiopian immigration, claiming that all Ethiopian Jews were now in Israel. Since that time, the Jewish Agency withdrew its funding from the community synagogue in Gondar, canceling a nutrition program for children and at one point even removing the town’s Torah scroll.
Although the government unanimously approved the immigration of all the remaining Jews from Ethiopia in November 2015, the decision faltered three months later when the Prime Minister’s Office refused to implement the program because the NIS 1 billion ($284 million) it said was needed to fund the absorption process was not in the state budget.