Netanyahu Averts Coalition Crisis by Expanding Falashmura Emigration From Ethiopia

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Demonstrators in Jerusalem call on government to airlift Falashmura from Ethiopia, March 20, 2016.
Ethiopian Jews march in Jerusalem in demand that the government airlift Falashmura from EthiopiaCredit: Emil Salman

A crisis in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party that may have risked the health of his government was resolved on Thursday by a decision to increase to 1,300 the number of descendants of Ethiopian Jewry, or Falashmura, permitted to immigrate in the coming year.

Under the deal, lawmakers Avraham Neguise and David Amsalem (Likud) pledge to stop boycotting votes held in the Knesset plenum, which they have done since the government said last month it would bring to Israel only 500 of some 9,000 Falashmura in Ethiopia, awaiting immigration.

The two lawmakers' failure to show up for a number of votes led to a few close calls for Likud in Knesset voting in the past month.

Netanyahu's aides said they had feared that the lawmakers' sanctions could lead to the government's demise if they were to refuse to cast a ballot when the state budget comes up for a vote. 

Three weeks ago the coalition delayed a vote at the last minute for a bill to rein in NGOs like V15 from helping to fund parties involved in an election campaign. Other bills were pigeonholed rather than be brought to a vote for fear they would not pass, a senior Likud figure said.

In a statement, the Likud said this crisis had now been resolved by the government agreeing that in 2016 1,300 Falashmura would immigrate and leaving the door open to further immigration over the next two years.

The Falashmura are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity under duress.

Israel airlifted thousands of Ethiopian Jews to the country in the 1980s and 1990s, and later permitted the Falashmura also to join in but many have been left behind for bureaucratic and budgetary reasons.

Neguise, an Israeli of Ethiopian origin, and Amsalem, both also accepted punitive measures for their having violated coalition discipline by faiing to vote. Both lawmakers' duties will be restricted until August. Neither will be permitted to propose legislation or agenda items, nor will they be permitted to address the plenum until August.

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