Len Lyons’s September 9 article, “The Last Ethiopian Jews Finally Make Aliyah,” is a fine example of a disappearing genre: a newspaper article that takes a relatively unknown, complicated subject and, in broad comprehensible strokes, lays out the critical issues. However, one of the issues discussed in Mr. Lyon’s fine piece deserves a little more elaboration because its resolution will affect the health and well being of thousands of Jews, including many children.
As Lyons noted, on June 19 an inter-ministerial committee headed by then Director General of the Treasury Haim Shani apparently concluded that Israel had a “vital need” to reduce the already meager immigration rate of Ethiopian Jews from 200 per month to 110. It did this without allowing the Jewish Agency to participate in its deliberations.
What serious person can maintain that a nation of 7 million, a member of the OECD no less, cannot absorb 7 olim per day and must reduce the rate to under 4, particularly when the Israel has been absorbing over 10 Ethiopian immigrants per day for many years. The argument that there is no place to house them is pure chutzpah. Housing is lacking because over the past two years Israel’s Immigration Ministry deliberately closed 4 absorption centers. Now, without even an attempt at justification, the Ministry simply refuses to reopen them.
Given the appalling living conditions Lyons found in Gondar, the Shani Committee decision to reduce the rate of aliyah is simply cruel. At best, it reflects a severe diminution in Zionist ideals from the 1950s when a much poorer state absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab lands. Treasury Minister Yuval Steinitz and Absorption Minister Sopha Landver should immediately reverse this abhorrent decision, which embarrasses the State of Israel and brings shame to the Jewish people.
The writer is a former president of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry.