Smacks of Discrimination

The government's decision harms not only the Falashmura who wish to settle in Israel but also all Ethiopians here who wish to bring their relatives, too.

Once upon a time in a Russian village, a local priest had a son who became an Israeli government minister. This is a true story: Contrary to his father, former absorption minister and Knesset Member Yuli Edelstein (Likud) did not convert to Christianity, and no one questioned his right to settle in Israel under the Law of Return. But had Edelstein's father been a member of the Falashmura, and had Edelstein himself not yet been living in Israel when his father converted, his political aspirations might have had to be realized only within the Ethiopian government - because he would not have been allowed to come to Israel.

Jews who converted to Christianity cannot enjoy the benefits of the Law of Return, the Supreme Court decided in 1962, when it rejected a petition from Daniel Rufeisen. Rufeisen had converted to Christianity and was known as Brother Daniel. Likewise, the Law of Return does not apply to Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity, a community known as the Falashmura. Those who were permitted to settle in Israel over the past few years did so under special arrangements. Now the government has decided to end Falashmura immigration. Based on the Brother Daniel case, this is fine. But based on the Yuli Edelstein case, a strong scent of discrimination arises - the son of a priest in Russia and the son of a shepherd from Ethiopia should have the same rights.

The one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union who have settled in Israel over the past decade and a half include hundreds of thousands of non-Jews whose connection with Judaism is nothing more than a Jewish grandfather. Many did not convert. No one asks about their parents, and no one demands proof that they uphold even one of the 613 Jewish commandments. The Falashmura community, in contrast, even includes some people whose parents converted to Christianity, but who did not convert to Christianity themselves.

It is somewhat ironic that Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit is the one responsible for implementing the decision to end the Falashmura immigration. When his parents came to Israel from Morocco, some Israelis objected to the fact that the state was bringing in Jews from North Africa. The decision to stop bringing the Falashmura stems from a similar reason - they are black, and are having trouble integrating into Israeli society. Absorbing most of the immigrants from the former Soviet Union was much easier. This consideration is contrary to the principle of equality, and is therefore improper.

The government's decision harms not only the Falashmura who wish to settle in Israel but also all Ethiopians here who wish to bring their relatives, too. Not all Ethiopian immigrants are supportive of the Falashmura, but some of the immigrants have been cut off from their parents, siblings, spouses and children. These people must be allowed to reunite swiftly with their families, without facing bureaucratic delays. This is their right as Israelis, not as Falashmura.

In this context, the government's decision drives home just how easy it is for discrimination against Palestinians to turn into discriminations against "others," such as blacks. The fact that Israeli Arab citizens may not bring their spouses here from the territories is one of the most infuriating cases of legitimized racism over the past few years. The ban on family reunions for Ethiopians is yet another step in the same direction.