Falashmura Aliyah as a Cautionary Tale

We can absorb people in distress from all kinds of countries. Some we wouldn't even have to airlift; all we'd need to do is give those here citizenship.

Demonstrators in Jerusalem call on government to airlift Falashmura from Ethiopia, March 20, 2016.
Emil Salman

In 1993 the government of Yitzhak Rabin decided to go beyond the letter of the law and bring the Falashmura – descendants of Ethiopian Jews who had converted to Christianity under duress – to Israel. Within a few months, they had all been brought over and that painful episode was over.

Except that it turned out that there were a few more Falashmura to bring here, just a few, and then that would be it. In 1998, a group immigrated to Israel when the Netanyahu government decided on a “last and final” operation that brought over the last 3,500 of them. The inflamed wound was healed.

But there had been a small mistake, it seems, because there were yet more Falashmura. The Sharon and Olmert governments agreed to end the tragedy and airlift the very last 17,000 of them here; on August 5, 2008, after great effort they, too, arrived in Israel. This time the government set conditions for this aliyah, which cost an estimated 3 billion shekels: The Falashmura camps in Ethiopia would have to be closed, and the organizations working on their behalf would have to disband. That was to be that. Then it turned out there were still more to come.

Again the government came to the rescue, and on August, 28, 2013, in a festive ceremony, the second Netanyahu government brought what was called Operation Dove’s Wings to a close. The absolutely last 7,000 Falashmura had arrived in Israel, and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky once again talked about how he was all choked up that this chapter was finally, but finally over.

Or not. Because then Ethiopian-born Avraham Nagosa, who had been promoting this cause for decades and was now a Likud MK, found a few hundred Falashmura who had been forgotten. Well, not a few hundred; actually, there were 1,900 who requested to come to Israel. Wait, no. Not 1,900, that was the number in 2013.

In October 2014 the Interior Ministry said there were really 6,000 remaining in Ethiopia, and now Nagosa and fellow Likud MK David Amsalem want to airlift 9,000 here; through some ugly act of extortion, the two managed to extract a cabinet decision to that effect.

When Yuli Edelstein was immigration and absorption minister 20 years ago, he told me that when a decision had been made to airlift the Falashmura to Israel, an Ethiopian diplomat had told him with a smile, “Invite me to the ceremony for the millionth immigrant.” Edelstein, of course, did not publicly oppose the decision.

When Tzipi Livni was absorption minister, she tore her hair out over the decision to bring over another 17,000 people. But in public she never spoke out against the decision. Other absorption ministers, from Sofa Landver to Zeev Elkin, weren’t too excited at the prospects either, but none of them dared to publicly object. After all, who wanted to be targeted by the people campaigning for the Falashmura?

It’s the same campaign every time, and it always works. They send Meir Shamgar, the former Supreme Court president who heads the Public Council for Ethiopian Jews, to the media, and then the protests begin.

“If they were blond, you would have already brought them here,” yell the angry demonstrators. They "market" to the media an Ethiopian immigrant combat soldier whose father is stuck in a camp in Ethiopia and is at risk of imminent death, and a Jewish state that is apathetic to his plight.

What are the chances of anyone accepting that at this rate, the aliyah of the Falashmura will never end? How reasonable is it that someone will acknowledge that they are actually getting favorable treatment? No blond French or American could immigrate to Israel on the grounds on which the authorities are bringing over the Falashmura. Does anyone even remember that some Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia who are living here – on those few occasions when they expressed an opinion on the issue – objected to bringing over any more of them?

The government should decide that each year it will absorb a specified number of people from distressed countries on a humanitarian basis. "Strong" countries like Israel ought to help weaker countries. There’s no reason to find a shaky Jewish connection for it. We can absorb people in distress from all kinds of countries, including Sudan and Eritrea. Some we wouldn’t even have to airlift; all we’d need to do is give the work migrants/refugees who are already here citizenship instead of hunting them down in the streets and brutally expelling them.

Ah, sorry, I forgot. Those blacks are “cancer,” while the other blacks are Jews.