Backtracking on an earlier commitment, Israel will delay by at least one year completion of its admission of some 4,000 Ethiopian Jews already approved for entry, some of whom have been waiting since 1991 to immigrate there.
The government has instructed the Jewish Agency for Israel to reduce the flow of Ethiopian immigrants to only 110 per month, a 45% reduction from the rate of 200 per month that it promised in November 2010. At this rate, the completion of their aliyah, or emigration, will be postponed until March 2015, rather than March 2014, as had been planned.
The Falash Mura are Ethiopians who have Jewish familial roots but lived as Christians for generations in order to escape persecution. But in recent decades, they asserted their Jewish ancestry and began to practice Judaism. The new Israeli decision will leave them waiting in the northwestern city of Gondar, where they live without running water or electricity, scraping by in their tin-roofed, dirt-floor huts and community outhouses.
The delay, the most recent in a history of postponements, prompted between 1,000 and 1,500 Ethiopian Israelis with family members in Gondar to protest outside Israel’s Ministry of Absorption on November 30, shouting the names of their relatives. They have petitioned the government to allow their relatives to immigrate and to join the estimated 130,000 Ethiopian Israelis already there, including more than 35,000 other Falash Mura.
Protest organizer Avraham Neguise and other representatives of the group were invited into the office of Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, who told them that the government’s 2010 commitment gave it the option of reducing the flow from Ethiopia if necessary. In the meeting, Landver provided no specific reasons for the change, alluding instead to a recommendation of an inter-ministerial committee.
Neguise was unmoved. “There is no evidence that the minister is requesting the budget for bringing them,” he told the Forward. “It is her responsibility to bring in immigrants who are eligible and approved.”
The reasons for the government’s altered game plan are elusive. Beyond that, the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Absorption disagree about the availability of beds in the absorption centers where the incoming immigrants must live for a year or longer. At the same time, the Finance Ministry says the number of beds is not the real problem. And despite the new schedule the government has handed the Jewish Agency, which oversees the preparation of the Falash Mura in Ethiopia, the Prime Minister’s Office says there is nothing to worry about anyway: It will all get done on time.
The first volley in this familiar battle over their immigration began last June, when an inter-ministerial committee, empowered to re-evaluate last year’s Cabinet decision, recommended a cutback in the Ethiopian aliyah. The reason given was an insufficient number of empty rooms in the absorption centers.
But Yehuda Sharf, director of aliyah, absorption and special operations for the Jewish Agency, asserts that there are about 1,000 beds available and that another 500 beds will be free by January 2012. Josh Schwarcz, the Jewish Agency’s secretary general and liaison to the government, agreed that there is currently enough room. Despite the government directive, he says it is “too early” to predict that the aliyah will be delayed.