Falash Mura Must Wait Another Year

Israel Backtracks on Commitment to Ethiopian Jews

Longer Wait: Ethiopian Falash Mura Jews thought they were near the end of their long wait to immigrate to Israel. Now they have to wait much longer.
ILAN OSSENDRYVER
Longer Wait: Ethiopian Falash Mura Jews thought they were near the end of their long wait to immigrate to Israel. Now they have to wait much longer.

By Len Lyons

Published December 06, 2011, issue of December 16, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

In September, Israel’s Public Council of Ethiopian Jewry, chaired by former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar, filed a petition in the Supreme Court to force the government to stick to its commitment made one year ago. Co-petitioners include nine Ethiopian Israeli families who have been waiting for years for their relatives to arrive in Israel. Israeli citizen Wotetu Haim Alemu joined the lawsuit because his aunt and uncle died while enduring years of delays, even though they were already eligible to immigrate. The government, asked in October to respond to the petition, has yet to do so.

Joseph Feit, a longtime representative of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, which operated the Jewish compound in Gondar until it turned it over to the Jewish Agency recently, says that the 2010 Cabinet decision allows for reducing the aliyah “only if there is a vital need” to do so. “The government has not demonstrated a vital need,” Feit said, “or any need at all.”

In a statement to the Forward, Mark Regev, the prime minister’s spokesman, said, “We are constantly monitoring the pressures on the absorbing infrastructure and hope that an increase in the volume of immigration will soon be possible.” When asked who has been telling the government that the “absorbing infrastructure” is inadequate, Regev replied, “We rely on the assessments of the relevant agencies.” He did not specify to which agencies he was referring.

The Ministry of Finance, which funds resettlement of the Ethiopians, explained through its press liaison that infrastructure includes not just housing, but also education, health care, job training and social services. Some who have been involved in this issue — among them Micha Feldman, a former Israeli consul to Ethiopia still active as an Ethiopian immigration consultant to the Jewish Agency — say the total (lifetime) cost per immigrant is $100,000. Many have disputed this number, and the Finance Ministry declined to provide an estimate of a cost per immigrant.

“Israel is committed to pay for these immigrants eventually,” Feit said. “The more time they spend waiting in Ethiopia with inferior health care and education, not to mention hundreds of babies being born, the more expensive it gets.”

Neguise, who has been fighting for the immigration of the Falash Mura since 1991, says that financial arguments are moot. “What they are saying is an excuse,” he said. “It’s not the money. They don’t want to bring them.”

Landver strongly denies being opposed to their aliyah. “After a trip to Ethiopia, [the minister] encouraged the government’s decision of November 2010 in order to close the camps in Gondar and to bring the Falash Mura to Israel,” her representative said in a statement issued to the Forward. The Absorption Ministry supports the reduction, the statement added, “to provide for an overall better absorption process for the new immigrants.”

Meanwhile, daily life for the Jews in Ethiopia is lived on the razor-thin edge of poverty and deprivation. If they can find any work in Gondar, a city of 200,000, the jobs are temporary and pay little, even by Ethiopian standards. The Jewish cemetery, which sits on a remote hillside bordered by farms tilled by oxen pulling wooden plows, is studded with the gravestones of those who have died waiting on Israel’s Ethiopian doorstep.

The news of a delay has sparked concern among American Jewish leaders and activists, many of whom have a long-standing emotional and moral attachment to Ethiopian Jewry. The community also has an ongoing financial investment in sustaining the Falash Mura that may be affected by the announced delay.

The Jewish Federations of North America is raising $5.5 million to support the Falash Mura for the remainder of their stay in Gondar in a campaign called “Completing the Journey.” But the journey will get more costly if they don’t complete it on time. Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of JFNA, said, “We have the utmost confidence that the Jewish Agency is doing its best, in dialogue with the Israeli government, to ensure the original commitments are met.”

Activist supporters of the Falash Mura have less confidence. And the Falash Mura families who have waited for years for their family members to join them in Israel fear that the resistance to their relatives in Gondar is deep and prejudicial. “If you had 4,000 American, European or Russian Jews wanting to make aliyah,” Neguise asked, “can you imagine the government telling them to wait a few years because we don’t have enough housing?”

Contact Len Lyons at feedback@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.