Israel Freezes Plan to Bring 9,000 Falashmura From Ethiopia

Prime minister’s rep cites budget problems, but critic says decision to leave immigrants' relatives behind 'smacks of racism.'

Ilan Lior
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Falashmura Community Center, Gondar, Northern Ethiopia.Credit: Moshik Brin
Ilan Lior

The state is freezing the process of bringing the remaining members of the Falashmura community from Ethiopia to Israel until the state budget is up for debate again. This was announced by Eli Groner, the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office. In an email he sent in recent days to the inter-ministerial team responsible for the implementation of this process, Groner wrote that the plan had been ratified with no allocated budget so that its implementation must wait. In a letter first appearing on Ynet, Groner said that the plan would cost 3 billion shekels (just over $750 million).

Three months ago the government approved bringing to Israel 9,000 people who are waiting in Addis Ababa and Gondar. “Bringing the remaining people of Jewish descent from Ethiopia to Israel will commence within 120 days and will last 5 years” says the decision, passed on November 15. The plan was submitted by then-Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, at the urging of MK David Amsalem (Likud), who heads the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee.

The government’s decision is aimed primarily at those left behind in Ethiopia, who have relatives in Israel, but have previously been turned down when applying to immigrate. The decision states that immigration of the Falshmura would be conditional on their appearance on updated lists of community members. Eligibility would be limited to people waiting in Gondar and Addis Ababa who agree to undergo conversion in Israel, and who left their villages before January 2013. A condition for being considered is that a first-degree next of kin person in Israel had either filed a request in the past or would do so now, in the name of a person waiting in Ethiopia.

The inter-ministerial team, headed by Groner, is comprised of the directors of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority and of the Absorption Ministry, and a representative of the budget divisions of the Treasury and of the Jewish Agency. The government charged the team with examining the pace of immigration, the possibility of bringing over second-degree relatives, budgetary considerations and the involvement of various national institutions and other Jewish organizations in their transfer to Israel.

Chen Asmamau, a female soldier whose grandmother and three cousins are among those waiting, says she can’t believe budgetary considerations are behind the freeze order. “Up to now they said it was because they weren’t Jewish. All of a sudden it’s the budget. How did this change in three months? How can I tell my family there?”

Falashmura Community Center, Gondar, Northern Ethiopia.Credit: Moshik Brin

Next Monday a joint session of the Knesset Interior and Absorption committees will be held. MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union) who visited these communities in Ethiopia a few months ago, sharply criticized the announcement. “How much longer will these people be abused and discriminated against?” she asked. “Freezing the plan and saying it’s for budgetary reasons worsens the discrimination and smacks of racism. How can we tell soldiers from Ethiopia that they’re good enough to sacrifice their lives but not good enough to reunite with their relatives?”