Ministries ignoring cabinet decision on bringing Falashmura
Most government ministries are dragging their feet in implementing a government decision to bring the remaining Falashmura in Ethiopia to Israel, a Haaretz investigation has revealed.
The government decided in late January that the last group of Falashmura in Ethiopia would be brought to Israel by the end of 2007, and the operation was set to begin in June of this year. But some four months later, the start of the operation is nowhere on the horizon.
The agreement with the Ethiopian government has yet to be signed, because the Foreign Ministry said it needed six months to prepare the Israeli proposal; the Immigrant Absorption Ministry has prepared a plan to absorb the Falashmura, but the treasury has refused to allocate funds in next year's state budget; and Interior Ministry representatives in Ethiopia have checked the eligibility of just 10 percent of the Falashmura who have submitted requests to immigrate to Israel.
The head of the Interior Ministry's Population Administration, Sasi Katzir, has already said that the reviews will not be completed before next August at the very earliest.
The decision to bring the Falashmura to Israel stipulates that the operation will be directed by the Jewish Agency, which will take control of the transit camps in Addis Ababa and Gondar where some 16,000-18,000 Falashmura are currently located. Once the Interior Ministry completes its eligibility review, those who are entitled to immigrate to Israel will be flown here at a rate of some 600 per month.
Under the decision, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry was entrusted with the task of preparing a three-year program for the absorption of the immigrants, while the treasury was charged with providing budgetary backing for the operation. The Jewish Agency said it would try to raise $100 million for the operation from the Diaspora.
The Immigrant Absorption Ministry's three-year plan, which has been prepared, calls for an overall budget of NIS 3.3 billion. The high cost of the plan stems from the decision to settle the immigrants not only in the periphery of the country and in low-income neighborhoods, but also in well-established communities. The plan has already been presented to the prime minister, but the treasury is refusing to allocate a budget for it.
Treasury sources say that talks on the 2006 budget have included a decision to budget a sum of NIS 200 million for bringing the Falashmura to Israel.
Because implementation of the plan requires the consent of the Ethiopian government, the Foreign Ministry was given the task of working out an agreement between the two countries. Foreign Ministry officials said this week, however, that the government decision "failed to take into account the bureaucratic process involved in preparing the proposal," adding that "the complexity of the agreement constantly raised the need for amendments."
The final draft of the agreement, covering all of two and half pages, was sent to Ethiopia at the beginning of August, more than six months after the government decision. The Ethiopian response, longer and more detailed than the Israeli proposal, was received three weeks later.
For its part, the Ethiopian government is demanding that Israel pay compensation to those members of the Falashmura community who are deemed ineligible to immigrate to Israel.
Under the draft agreement proposed by Ethiopia, Israel will undertake to "rehabilitate" those Falashmura - descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity - who are unable to immigrate by paying them compensation. The compensation, explains the Ethiopian government, is designed to allow those who are found ineligible to rejoin Ethiopian society after spending years in the transit camps in Addis Ababa and Gondar waiting to immigrate.