Ethiopian Jew Killed in Riots While Waiting to Immigrate to Israel, Report Says

Weta Chekla stuck in Ethiopia amid delays in the implementation of Israel's decision to bring 9,000 members of his community to Jewish state.

Illustration: A graveyard is seen in Jewish community in Falasha, a Jewish village on the outskirts of Ethiopia's city of Gondar, September 29, 2016.
Tiksa Negeri, Reuters

An Ethiopian Jewish man reportedly waiting to immigrate to Israel was killed in riots that have claimed dozens of lives in recent weeks, the Israel-based news site Little Ethiopia reported on Thursday.

The report identified the victim as Weta Chekla and said he was waiting to immigrate amid delays in the implementation of an Israeli government decision to bring in 9,000 members of his community to the Jewish state.

Demonstrations on Thursday and similar protests in recent days in the city of Gondar occurred amid interethnic tensions involving the Welkait community.

Gondar has approximately 6,000 people from the Falash Mura community of Ethiopians who claim links to descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity generations ago but now seek to return to Judaism and immigrate to Israel.

In April, the Israeli government signed off on an agreement guaranteeing the immigration of 9,000 Falash Mura by 2020, partly with funding from the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. The agreement called for the absorption of 1,300 Falash Mura by June but, following delays, the first group of 78 Ethiopian immigrants to move to Israel in the past three years is scheduled to arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday.

The article about Chekla’s death on Little Ethiopia, which is a semi-official website of lobby groups representing the interests of Ethiopian Israelis, accused the Israeli government of dragging its feet because of racism on the immigration of the Falash Mura.

“The Government of the State of Israel continues to classify Jews according to color and race and completely ignores the community in Ethiopia,” the unsigned article read.

“Wherever White Jews are to be found, the government shows its attentiveness in every possible way, from sending delegates to calling for immediate aliyah,” the authors continued, using the Hebrew word for immigration to Israel under its Law of Return for people of Jewish descent and their relatives. “But it’s a different story in the case of the Beita Israel,” read the text, using the Amharic-language designation of the Falash Mura, which means “the House of Israel.”

But, pointing to the community’s achievement in Israel, Israeli officials and advocates of the policies applied to absorb approximately 120,000 Ethiopians into Israeli society since the 1980s have consistently rejected allegations of racism toward African Jews.

Last week, two Israeli-Ethiopian lawyers, Esther Tapeta Gradi and Adenko Sabhat Haimovich, were appointed as judges.

“Undeniably, mistakes were made in the absorption of aliyah from Ethiopia,” Uri Heitner, a senior researcher at the Shamir Institute for Research – a state-funded research and development center and think tank located in the Golan Heights – wrote last week in an op-ed about Ethiopian Jews in Israel. “There are still difficulties demanding resolution. But overall, the Ethiopian Aliyah is an impressive Zionist success story.”