Ethiopia's Jews Protest Netanyahu's Government's Delays in Bringing Them to Israel

Representatives of the 8,000 Jews in Ethiopia urged the Ethiopian Jews living in Israel to think carefully before voting for Israel’s ruling Likud party over the delays in repatriation to Israel

Members of Ethiopia's Jewish community gather below a banner reading "Welcome" in Amharic, English and Hebrew, to protest the Israel's decision not to allow all of them to emigrate to Israel, leaving their families divided between the two countries, at the synagogue in Addis Ababa, November 19, 2018.
Mulugeta Ayene / AP

Hundreds of Ethiopian Jews gathered in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Monday to protest the Israeli government’s refusal to allow all of them to immigrate to Israel, leaving their families divided between the two countries.

During the demonstration, a community leader urged Ethiopian Jews living in Israel to think carefully before voting for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, saying Netanyahu hadn’t kept his 2015 promise to let them immigrate.

“I urge Ethiopian Jews to think twice before voting for the Likud party, because the party’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, is not keeping his words to help us emigrate to Israel,” Neggousa Zemene Alemu, head coordinator of the Ethiopian Jews in the Ethiopian cities of Addis Ababa and Gondar said.

“I don’t believe the Israeli government has a financial problem to bring the remaining Ethiopian Jews back to Israel,” he said. “I rather think it is a political move or racism.”

>> Ethiopian Israelis vow to keep pushing for all Falashmura to be brought to Israel

As the demonstration was taking place, leaders of the community in Israel submitted a petition to Netanyahu titled “Keep your promise.” It was signed by some 10,000 Ethiopian-Israelis, including soldiers, officers and Knesset members.

The petition said the continued refusal to bring their relatives in Ethiopia to Israel constituted psychological abuse that violated the principles of good government, basic fairness and humanity. 

Most of those remaining in Ethiopia are Falashmura, or descendants of Ethiopian Jewish converts to Christianity, who therefore aren’t recognized as Jewish by Israel. 

On October 7, the government decided that just 1,000 of them, people who have children in Israel, would be allowed to immigrate now. The original cabinet decision from 2015 was to let all 9,000 of the remaining Falashmura come, but it is being implemented in installments, and to date, only 1,300 have actually arrived.

Netanyahu told the ministerial committee on Ethiopian-Israelis on Monday that he had asked Interior Minister Arye Dery, “who was unable to attend this meeting, to bring a proposal to the cabinet” on how to address the issue. He termed this another step in the government’s efforts to help “this precious community, which is part of our people and part of our country.”
Eyayu Abuhay, a community organizer in Addis Ababa, said that 50 Ethiopian Jews have died since 2015 while waiting to join their family members in Israel. “We want Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to come to our rescue before we all die here,” he said.

In February, Ethiopian Jews held a similar protest in Addis Ababa and warned they will stage a mass hunger strike if Israel eliminates funding to help them join their families in Israel. Since then, Israeli officials have visited Ethiopia, but organizers said nothing has changed.
“Why are we not allowed to immigrate to Israel? Is it because we are black or uneducated?” asked Melese Sidisto, a coordinator for Ethiopian Jews in Addis Ababa, who then burst into tears. “We are being cheated like a child. This is not right.”

As of the end of 2017, the government had approved immigration applications for 326 families comprising 1,308 Falashmura. Of these, 76 percent came from the Gondar region and the rest from Addis Ababa. But after that, in line with another cabinet decision, the government stopped processing applications.

MK Avraham Nagosa (Likud) said that of the 8,000 Falashmura still awaiting permission to immigrate, about 1,000 have children living in Israel and 2,200 have parents living here.

In February 2016 Eli Groner, the director general of the Prime Minister Minister’s Office, announced that the program was approved without a budgetary source and would therefore be delayed.

The freezing of the program led to a coalition crisis, after Likud MKs Avraham Nagosa and David Amsalem  announced that they would not support the coalition during votes in the Knesset plenum. An interministerial committee was formed, which led to another cabinet decision in August 2016, when the government decided to bring 1,300 members of the community, within a year.