The Israeli minister in charge of immigration is predicting that the recent proposal to drastically cut the number of Ethiopian Jews allowed into Israel will be reversed when it comes before parliament.
“I told the prime minister that before we pass this, we will put it before the parliament to be reconsidered,” Israel’s Minister of Immigrant Absorption, Ze’ev Boim, told the Forward. Boim said he believed that the rate of Ethiopian immigration for 2007 would be restored in the coming weeks.
Last month, the Finance Ministry reduced the number of Ethiopian immigrants being granted entry to Israel each month from 300 to 150. The ministry cited budget cuts necessitated by last summer’s costly war in Lebanon as the reason for slashing the quota for Falash Mura, Ethiopian Jews who are now returning to Judaism after their ancestors converted to Christianity.
American Jewish leaders raised an outcry following the proposed reduction, deeming it unacceptable that Israel would renege on its promise to complete Ethiopian immigration by the end of 2007. Some prominent Jewish professionals charged that racism, not the ballooning military budget, was the real impetus for the cuts. A promise by former prime minister Ariel Sharon in February 2005 to double the monthly pace of Falash Mura immigration, from 300 to 600 by June of that year, was never implemented after being postponed repeatedly by the government.
About 14,000 Falash Mura are currently living in squalor in the Ethiopian cities of Addis Ababa and Gondar, awaiting what they hope will be the green light to settle in Israel.
Boim expressed outrage that the government would even consider slowing the rate of the Ethiopian immigration. “Since 1948, there has not been one time that the government cut immigration, even in a time of war,” he said.
Still, Boim said, the integration of the Falash Mura into Israeli society is a far more complex undertaking than the assimilation of previous waves of newcomers to the Jewish state. He attributed the complications of resettlement to the cultural gaps between an impoverished African nation like Ethiopia and a developed country like Israel. Boim suggested that leaders of American Jewish charitable federations, who pledged to raise $100 million for the cause in an effort to push Israel to increase the rate of immigration, need to understand the challenges of absorbing the Falash Mura.
“I am in favor, and I push to bring them, but the American Jews should consider the difficulties,” he said.