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High Court freezes plan to bring Ethiopians to Israel as it reviews petition

Immigration Minister Tamano-Shata laments decision, says members of Falash Mura are experiencing growing danger ‘with every day that passes’

Ethiopian Immigrants arrive in Israel as part of Operation Tzur Israel, March 11, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Ethiopian Immigrants arrive in Israel as part of Operation Tzur Israel, March 11, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice ordered a freeze on Wednesday on plans to bring thousands of Ethiopian Falash Mura to Israel as it reviews a petition against the move.

The petition by the Israeli Immigration Policy Center asserts that members of the community are not Jews and thus do not qualify to immigrate.

Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, herself a member of the Ethiopian community, lamented the decision, and said members of the Falash Mura were experiencing growing danger “with every day that passes.”

The Falash Mura are Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity, often under duress, generations ago. Some 30,000 of them have immigrated to Israel since 1997, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

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

In November, the government agreed to accelerate the stalled immigration of 5,000 Ethiopians claiming Jewish descent.

Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, November 15, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The decision came amid rising calls from leaders and members of Israel’s Ethiopian community to swiftly bring over those still waiting to emigrate as a civil war in the country heats up.

Those included in the proposed plan have first-degree relatives in Israel and were eligible to immigrate under a 2015 government decision, under which 9,000 people who have first-degree relatives in Israel and had arrived in camps in Gondar or Addis Ababa by 2010 would be brought to the Jewish state.

Some 4,000 Ethiopians were brought to Israel following the 2015 decision, but reports indicate the number of those waiting to leave has since swelled from 5,000 to around 8,000.

There are thought to be 7,000 to 12,000 Ethiopian community members still waiting to come to Israel, many of whom live in the Tigray region, at the heart of the conflict.

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