High Court rejects petition, allowing thousands of Ethiopians to immigrate to Israel

Injunction lifted on government plan to bring people with Israeli relatives, who are eligible for citizenship; immigration minister: ‘These immigrants waited for no reason’

Ethiopian immigrants arrive in Israel, on March 11, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Ethiopian immigrants arrive in Israel, on March 11, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice has rejected an appeal that prevented the government from bringing over Ethiopians eligible for Israeli citizenship, and thousands of Ethiopian refugees will arrive shortly, Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata said Tuesday.

In November, the government approved a plan to let some 9,000 Ethiopians with first-degree relatives in Israel immigrate under the Law of Return. However, this effort was blocked by the right-wing Israeli Immigration Policy Center, which appealed to the High Court of Justice on the grounds that the Ethiopians in question were not themselves Jewish or the direct descendants of Jews.

While the court considered the matter, the government’s plan was not able to proceed.

On Tuesday, the court removed its injunction and rejected the Israeli Immigration Policy Center’s petition.

“These immigrants waited for no reason and were left separated from their families, their parents, their siblings, their children and more. The war in Ethiopia and the coronavirus pandemic made their situation worse and the time has come to bring them home to Israel,” Tamano-Shata said in a statement.

“Soon landing alongside the immigrants from Ukraine will be immigrants from Ethiopia,” she said.

She added: “All Israelis are brothers. As I promised, I will be a minister for everyone. I will fight to bring over Jews from Ukraine alongside immigration from Ethiopia and from anywhere in the Diaspora from which someone wants to immigrate to Israel.”

In this photo from the Jewish Agency, Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (left) and then-Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog (center) greet 119 new immigrants from Ethiopia at Ben Gurion Airport, May 21, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem)

The decision and the remarks came a day after Tamano-Shata accused her ministerial colleagues of hypocrisy in fighting far harder to bring Ukrainian refugees eligible for citizenship who were fleeing a brutal war to Israel than they did to bring Ethiopians facing similar circumstances.

“This is the hypocrisy of white people. We must also work to advance the immigration of Jews from Ethiopia, who are also fleeing a war,” she said during Monday’s cabinet meeting.

In response, Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai cracked, “We’re from Europe.”

Tamano-Shata reportedly did not take the response well, telling Shai to “take it back, it’s not funny.” At that stage, Liberman reportedly intervened to defend the comment as “just a joke.”

Economy Minister Orna Barbivai also apparently didn’t appreciate Tamano-Shata’s remarks, saying, “How can you say such a thing? How would you react if someone said that Black people are hypocrites?”

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

Tamano-Shata, herself an immigrant from Ethiopia, has been critical of the immigration delay, saying that 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 Falash Mura have immigrated to Israel since 1997, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Tuesday’s High Court decision came amid calls from leaders and members of Israel’s Ethiopian community to swiftly bring over those still waiting to emigrate as a civil war in Ethiopia is heating up.

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 ongoing civil war.

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