Jerusalem – The State of Israel is now closing the gates to immigration from Ethiopia. On Tuesday morning, a plane with 65 members of the Falash Mura is due to land at Ben-Gurion Airport. Thousands of their brothers, who are left behind in Ethiopia, will apparently have to go on saying “next year in Jerusalem” for eternity.
Most of the Jews of Ethiopia came to Israel in 1984 in Operation Moses, or in 1991 in Operation Solomon. However that was not the end of the matter, for thousands of Falash Mura were left behind, and they too wanted to come to Israel. The Falash Mura are descended from Jews who converted to Christianity hundreds of years ago. Many of them decided in recent decades to return to Judaism. But religious circles in Israel were opposed to their absorption, claiming that they were not Jews. In the end a compromise was reached: Anyone who could prove that one of his parents was Jewish could immigrate to Israel – and would then have to undergo conversion.
In 2003, the government of Israel decided that as soon as the number of immigrant Falash Mura reached 35,000, the immigration would stop.
That moment has come today, with the arrival in Israel of another 65 Falash Mura. The Interior Ministry maintains that all the Falash Mura still living in Ethiopia are not entitled to immigrate to Israel, because they did not succeed in proving that one of their parents was Jewish.
Various American Jewish organizations say there are 9,000 Falash Mura in Ethiopia who wish to emigrate to Israel. The decision of the Israeli government finally closes the possibility of these people coming to Israel.
In the wake of the government decision the Jewish Agency is closing its office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The agency’s representative in Ethiopia, Uri Conforti, is due to return to Israel in about two weeks with his colleagues. Sources in the Jewish Agency say that in place of Mr. Conforti a local representative will be appointed, and he will try to solve the problem of the Falash Mura left behind.
The Jewish Agency confirmed that the office in Ethiopia is to be closed and that the last group of Falash Mura will land today. “We act in accordance with government decisions and bring to Israel everyone whose entitlement to immigrate has been approved by the Interior Ministry,” the official said.
Rabbi Yefet Elmo, who is active on behalf of the Falash Mura living in Israel, said last night: “We will fight for continuation of the immigration, until the last Jew arrives.”
Since 1984 120,000 people have immigrated from Ethiopia, 35,000 of them Falash Mura.
For many years the Israeli government has been preaching slogans about immigration from Ethiopia, thereby creating false hopes. It made empty promises to masses of Falash Mura that they would be able to settle in Israel and be reunited with their families – but in the end, it only destroyed these families.
On the basis of these Israeli promises, masses of Falash Mura left their villages and migrated to the cities in preparation of their immigration to Israel, which was postponed again and again. These people lost their property and became strangers in their own country, sometimes for periods of a decade or more. And if the government of Israel already agreed to let some of them immigrate, they were often subjected to a situation where clerks at the Israel Interior Ministry, who would let wives immigrate but leave the husbands behind in Ethiopia, or where parents would immigrate, and left their children behind.
Israeli civil liberties groups have been quick to champion the cause of other Black Africans who want to move to Israel with no pretense of an affinity for Judaism or a desire to be Jewish. The best example is the welcome afforded by Israel to 5,000 people of Darfur, who happen to be Muslims.
Now, it is official. The Falash Mura, Black Africans waiting in transit camps to return to Judaism and to live in Zion, will not be afforded that opportunity. To make matters worse, the one prominent Ethiopian Israeli journalist, Danny Ababa of the Yediot daily newspaper, constantly reminds his readers that it was the people of Darfur who persecuted Ethiopian Jews as they trekked through the Sudan en route to the land of Israel.
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com
©The Bulletin 2008