Stop the disgrace

There’s no other way to describe the mountain of unkept promises, and the pool of tears that have been shed because of it, that this country has committed in the decades-long saga of Ethiopian Jews: disgraceful.

The chronicle of the immigration to Israel of the Beta Yisrael – also known as the Falash Mura – and those left behind has been a contentious one from the beginning, with some questioning the group’s Jewish authenticity while others argue that Israel should have been more aggressive to bring in more of them sooner.

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For more than two decades, successive Israeli governments made conflicting decisions regarding the so-called Falash Mura. While the government did not initially recognize the community’s right to come to Israel, years of pressure from community members in Israel to rabbis and Jewish organizations in the United States forced the state to relent.

Since then, thousands of Beta Yisrael have been brought to Israel – to our credit – but there remain thousands more who have been abandoned, despite repeated promises by various coalitions to do something about it.

These Beta Yisrael are Ethiopian Jews, some of whose ancestors converted under pressure to Christianity during the 19th and 20th centuries, but who have since returned to strict adherence to Jewish practice.

Because those Jews had converted, they are not covered under the Law of Return, which grants the right to immigrate and gain citizenship to anyone with a Jewish grandparent.

Instead, they are brought to Israel under the Law of Entry, and are then required to convert to Judaism once in Israel. They also receive the same absorption benefits granted to immigrants who come under the Law of Return.

When they come. Foot-dragging by various coalitions over bringing the remaining Beta Yisrael to Israel has been a case study in government malfeasance, resulting in a tragic situation. At present, there are 7,691 registered Beta Yisrael sitting in Gondar and Addis Ababa waiting to come to Israel – with some of them waiting 20 years! More than 80% of them have close relatives living as citizens in Israel, some even serving in the army.

How hard is it to understand that it is an absolute imperative to reunite those Jews sitting there with their families sitting here?

In November 2015 and August 2016, the cabinet of this government declared that 9,146 Falash Mura who were living in Addis Ababa and Gondar – living a Jewish life, with active synagogues, ritual baths, Sabbath and holiday observance, and studying Hebrew and Judaism – were eligible to be brought to Israel.

The decision stated that those Falash Mura should be brought to Israel by the end of 2020, starting with 1,300 in 2017.

That was last year. Despite government assurances, nothing has changed: the 2019 state budget passed two months ago had no allocation of resources to bring more Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Why is that? We hope it is not a result of racism; the fact that there are some 135,000 Ethiopian Jews living in Israel today hopefully dispels that.

Is it financial? The estimated cost of flying the remaining 8,000 Jews to Israel, along with housing and social services, is approximately NIS 1.4 billion – a tiny fraction of the near NIS 500 billion national budget.

Moreover, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has pledged that once additional olim from Ethiopia are approved, it stands ready to raise the money needed to sponsor this renewed Ethiopian aliya. The ICEJ already invested $1.2 million in Ethiopian aliya last year, with Christians from around the world contributing to this humanitarian, Zionist and even religious cause.

What this is all about is simply doing the right thing.

A ministerial meeting including the Finance, Interior, and Aliya and Integration ministers is scheduled for June 18, where a decision will be taken. It’s time for the State of Israel to fulfill its obligation and bring the rest of the Beta Yisrael to Israel, as it has already promised.