How to Import a Social Time Bomb

The State of Israel conducted two complex aid operations in developing countries this week. But while the rescue mission to Haiti was accompanied by a big publicity campaign, the arrival in Israel of 144 new immigrants from Ethiopia hardly warranted a mention. The operation in Haiti is one of limited duration. On the other hand, the two planes carrying immigrants from Addis Ababa are merely first installments. Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared this week that he planned to approve the arrival of another 8,000 immigrants from Ethiopia.

In this way, without an orderly decision-making process, the Israeli government is committing to absorb at least 10,000 poverty-stricken Ethiopians with all the economic and social implications this entails. The government is once again bowing to a bizarre coalition made up of messianic rabbis, settlers, respected public figures with good intentions (like former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar), American Jewish organizations, and first and foremost, Shas. The move ignores the positions of former interior and absorption ministers, experts from the Jewish Agency, and a series of decisions made by Ariel Sharon's government to stop bringing the Falashmura to Israel.

This is not a matter of applying the Law of Return. Even the ruling by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar stating that the Falashmura are "from the seeds of Israel" required them to undergo a full conversion to Judaism. Some of the Falashmura are the descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity at the beginning of the 20th century and even before that; they are not included in any category of the Law of Return. On arrival, they receive temporary residency cards and get full citizenship only after completing their conversion.

The Falashmura issue was already raised during the preparations for Operation Solomon in 1991 when 14,000 Ethiopians were brought here - the last Jews who remained there. It was decided not to take in the Falashmura, but nevertheless several thousand managed to arrive and were absorbed as new immigrants in every sense. Ever since, every government has come under tremendous pressure to allow "family reunions."

A coalition of interests represents them in the media with great success as Jews in every respect whom the state is abusing because of the color of their skin. This coalition includes the Shas leaders, who are true to the rulings of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Amar that recognized the Beta Israel community and the Falashmura as Jews, right-wing rabbis who dream of mass immigration that will make it possible to beat the Palestinians on the demographic front, and liberal Jews from America who seek tikkun olam - to repair the world. The Americans support this lobby's activities and the operation of the compound in Gondar where thousands of Falashmura have gathered. The price of bringing them to Israel and their absorption over the years - which adds up to hundreds of millions of shekels - will have to be borne by the state.

The media and most of the public are being deceived by the false picture painted by the Falashmura lobby. The voice of experts in the Jewish Agency and government is not heard at all - they say these people have no connection whatsoever to the Jewish nation, that their only wish is to escape from a life of destitution in Ethiopia, and that each of them who is absorbed in Israel has dozens of relatives who will become candidates for family reunions.

It's simple to accuse these experts of racism especially because "white" non-Jewish new immigrants continue to come here from the former Soviet Union. But as long as the Law of Return remains in effect, those people have the right to immigrate here, while the Falashmura come as the result of political machinations. At the very least, a public debate must be held on the issue before Israel imports another social time bomb that will add to its plethora of problems.