1,500 Protest in Jerusalem Against Suspension of Falashmura Airlifts From Ethiopia

Protesters call on government to implement cabinet resolution to bring 9,000 Falashmura waiting in Addis Ababa and Gondar. 'If these were 9,000 blue-eyed, blond children they would have been here yesterday,' lawmaker says.

Demonstrators in Jerusalem call on government to airlift Falashmura from Ethiopia, March 20, Jerusalem. A few people hold framed photographs of family members who are still in Ethiopia.
Emil Salman

About 1,500 people, most of them immigrants from Ethiopia or their descendants, demonstrated in Jerusalem on Sunday against the suspension of the program to bring to Israel the remaining members of the Falashmura community in Ethiopia.

The Falashmura are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity. Many of the protesters have parents, siblings or grandparents who are still in Ethiopia and have been waiting for years for the government to bring them to Israel. Some of the demonstrators carried photos of their relatives.

The demonstrators called on the government to implement immediately a November 15 cabinet resolution to airlift the 9,000 Falashmura who have been approved for immigration and are waiting in Addis Ababa and Gondar. All of whom have relatives in Israel.

In February the state announced it was suspending the program, saying it was approved without the requisite proof of funding.

The demonstrators marched from the International Convention Center (Binyanei Hauma) to the Prime Ministers Office, carrying signs reading cabinet resolutions must be kept, down with discrimination, down with racism and No discriminating between Jews.

Knesset members Avraham Nagosa and David Amsalem (Likud) and Revital Swid (Zionist Union) attended the demonstration. For the past 10 days Amsalem and Nagosa have absented themselves from Knesset sessions to protest the freezing of the airlifts. In the wake of pressure from Likud MKs, on March 7 the Prime Minister Office announced that 500 of the 9,000 Falashmura — mainly those who were old, ill or without families — will be brought to Israel this year, saying the remainder would have to wait until the 2017 state budget is passed.

Nagosa and Amsalem made it clear that this was insufficient.

Demonstrators in Jerusalem Sunday. Hundreds of people march with signs, Israeli flags and photographs of loved ones.
Emil Salman

I just dont understand my governments decision said Amsalem, who vowed to continue his boycott of Knesset plenary sessions until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises to carry out the November cabinet resolution in full.

If these were 9,000 blue-eyed, blond children they would have been here yesterday, said Nagosa, who was born in Ethiopia and immigrated to Israel in 1985, at the age of 27. The families holding the photos of their loved ones [at the demonstration] are hurting and they seek to bring over their parents, children and siblings, demanding that the government implement its decision as originally stated. The newer stricture, which is based on racism and discrimination, should be rescinded. We will continue not to vote with the government as long as it discriminates among Jews, Nagosa said.

One of the demonstrators, Hayatu Zamil, said that hes been waiting for over 10 years to bring his daughter here. The governments already decided and suddenly they dont want to — its pure racism. My heart is broken, he said. Yezanu Maru, who was also at the protest, said shes been waiting for her aunt for 18 years. We campaigned for years to get a cabinet resolution and now were being scorned again. My aunt and others remaining there are in dire straits but obviously this doesnt interest the government, which repeatedly lies to us, she said.

The prime minister wouldnt have dared to freeze a cabinet resolution to bring in immigrants and would have found the funding had they been immigrants from the Soviet Union or Europe, Swid said. This is racism and blatant discrimination. Only the Ethiopian community is suddenly informed that there is no budget. I call on the prime minister to comply with the resolution and bring in the 9,000 people who are waiting and to rescind the suspension of the resolution without hiding behind baseless excuses of budgetary issues, she said.

Demonstrators in Jerusalem Sunday. Women forge a path through beds of rosemary, with a larger group of protesters in the background.
Emil Salman