Israel Is Insulting Its Ethiopian Jewish Community

The cabinet decision to 'bring the last of the Falashmura to Israel' gives members of this community grounds to feel insulted.

Yesterday's cabinet decision to "bring the last of the Falashmura to Israel" gives members of this community grounds to feel insulted. It is patronizing, even hostile. It demands that activists on behalf of the Falashmura cease their activities and sets a quota beyond which no additional Falashmura will be brought here - as if they were barrels of hazardous waste that had to be eliminated.

The decision also has a logical flaw. If there is no justification for bringing the Falashmura here, why is Israel doing it, despite the considerable social and economic costs involved? If, alternatively, they are entitled to Israeli citizenship, why set a quota? For citizens of what other country has Israel ever set an immigration quota? Indeed, this smacks of pure racism.

Benjamin Netanyahu undoubtedly felt a sense of deja vu yesterday. In June 1998, during his first term as prime minister, he announced that Israel would no longer allow in Falashmura. Now, his second government has made the same proclamation. What are the chances that this time it will actually happen?

For two decades - ever since Operation Solomon, the 1991 airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel - every govermnent has wrestled with the Falashmura dilemma. Numerous committees have presented contradictory recommendations, none of which were ever implemented, and estimates of the number of Falashmura remaining have all proven to be divorced from reality.

The only prophecy that did come true was that of settler leader Hanan Porat, who tried in vain to convince then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir to let 2,500 Falashmura board the 1991 airlift. "They didn't let 2,000 immigrate today," he said. "In the end, 20,000 will come."

An odd mix of rabbis, settlers, Shas politicians, Jewish-American donors and a handful of self-interested Ethiopian immigrant activists, who certainly do not represent the majority of their community, have for years succeeded again and again in forcing prime ministers to eat their words and bring thousands upon thousands of Ethiopian Christians to Israel.

A few senior civil servants tried to stem the tide. One such example is Eyal Gabbai, director general of the Prime Minister's Office, who ultimately broke under the pressure but did manage to get a written commitment from all parties concerned that once the 7,864 Falashmura covered in today's decision have arrived, the Falashmura lobby will disband.

But even if these organizations and individuals keep their promise, there will still be thousands of Ethiopians who claim to have Jewish roots and relatives already living in Israel. And they will continue to be aided by settlers who believe that bringing the "lost tribes" back to Israel can solve the demographic problem, Shas politicians who want to prove they don't hate blacks, and American Jews who want to "repair the world" at Israeli society's expense.

The current organizations might disband, but new ones will emerge in their place. Thousands of new Falashmura will flock to the compound in Gondar. Ethiopian Israelis will hold demonstration to bring their parents and siblings be here. And yet another government will capitulate.

Anshel Pfeffer