Time to Keep Your Word to Ethiopian Jews, Netanyahu

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Ethiopian-Israelis demonstrate against the delay in bringing their families who remain in Ethiopia to Israel, Jerusalem, March 20, 2016.
Ethiopian-Israelis demonstrate against the delay in bringing their families who remain in Ethiopia to Israel, Jerusalem, March 20, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman
Kassahun Shiferaw
Kassahun Shiferaw

Our forefathers dreamed of returning to holy Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago, hoping that the day would come when they could reach it. Consequently, from 1977 to 1985, many families left their homes and made their way to Jerusalem via Sudan to realize their dream.

The road was hard. Robbers took everything people had, food ran out and many came down with serious illnesses.

They had dreamed that as soon as they reached the transit camp in Sudan, they would immigrate to Israel. But they discovered that Jerusalem’s gates were closed.

As a result, thousands of Jews died before Operation Moses finally began, running from November 21, 1984 to January 5, 1985. Then, after a six-year struggle, the government once again opened Jerusalem’s gates in Operation Solomon in 1991.

Since Operation Solomon, more than 55,000 additional Jews have immigrated from Ethiopia. During these years, the cabinet adopted several resolutions on bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel, but most were nothing but a political game, and the government didn’t implement these decisions in full. Consequently, families were torn apart, since some members moved to Israel and others were left behind.

There are currently over 7,500 Jews waiting to emigrate from Ethiopia. Some of them have been waiting for more than 20 years, including parents and siblings of soldiers who are protecting Israel with their own bodies. Yet the state has turned its back on them, even as its gates are open to all other Jews worldwide.

In 2015, the Netanyahu government adopted a decision to bring the rest of the Ethiopian Jews living in Gondar and Addis Ababa to Israel by the end of 2020. But in practice, the prime minister approved the immigration of only a small number of these Jews. He didn’t keep his promise in full, and therefore, families remain separated to this day.

During the election campaign, the prime minister made our community promises about continuing the immigration from Ethiopia. A press statement issued by his Likud party on February 14 said that “bringing the remaining Ethiopian Jews will be part of a Likud government’s 100-day plan.

“Likud promises to bring the remaining Ethiopian Jews through an orderly plan that will be approved in the first 100 days of a Likud government,” the statement continued. “This plan will be promoted on top of the 400 Jews who will be brought from Ethiopia in the coming weeks. Under this plan, the government will bring everyone who is entitled to immigrate to Israel. Around 7,500 Jews will be brought from Ethiopia by the end of 2020.”

In an interview with the Ethiopian-Israeli television station IETV two weeks before the election, Netanyahu said, “We have to bring them now ... and bring them even before the election, and certainly after the election, and not just 400; there are thousands there.”

Ethiopian immigrants welcomed at Ben-Gurion airport, February, 25, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

And in a video clip published on Election Day itself, the prime minister asserted, “I want to bring the whole community immediately after the election, once I have a government and it’s impossible to stop me.”

Two weeks before the election, I met with the prime minister, together with rabbis, kesim (the community’s traditional spiritual leaders) and other activists. At that meeting, he promised to finish bringing all the Ethiopian Jews this year, adding, “We have the money. It’s not a question of funding.”

Mr. Prime Minister, we demand redress for the years of disregard and false promises. This has to be done now. You must keep your promises and include immigration from Ethiopia in the national budget, alongside a clear timetable for bringing the rest of our brothers and sisters here.

Kassaw Shiferaw is a social activist.

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