AFRICANGLOBE – Up to 1,000 Ethiopian-born Jews protested Sunday opposite the Israel’s Immigrant Absorption Ministry over a recent government recommendation to reduce the number of new Ethiopian Jews (olim) arriving each month.
The immigrants, or Falash Mura (Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Judaism centuries ago) – many of whom still have family members living in Ethiopia – called on the Israeli government to keep the commitment it made a year ago to wind up aliya from the East African Nation within the next three years.
The protesters’ central demand is for the ministry to open additional centers to absorb the new immigrants so they can continue to arrive in Israel at a rate of 200 people per month.
While the government – which has appointed the Jewish Agency For Israel (JAFI) to facilitate this final phase of mass Ethiopian immigration – has fulfilled its annual quota, bringing in some 2,400 new immigrants, it is also under pressure by conservatives to make sure the socioeconomic pressures of absorbing this community do not become too great.
Along those lines, an interministerial commission made a recommendation this past summer to reduce the number of new immigrants from 200 per month to 110 per month, starting from November 15 this year until March 1, 2015.
Headed by former Finance Ministry director-general Haim Shani, the panel was initially tasked with finding a solution for hundreds of immigrants who couldn’t afford housing outside the absorption centers.
The reduction, wrote the commission in its final summation, “will allow us to keep up with the housing demands and other absorption services such as education [and] welfare in order to absorb them in the optimum way.”
The Prime Minister’s Office has pointed out that under the government’s decision last year, Shani’s commission had permission to extend the process for an additional year if a vital reason were shown.
In an interview with a Jewish newspaper, Ethiopian MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) discounted arguments by the commission, saying instead that “the government is always looking for a reason not to move forward with Ethiopian immigration.”
He said it was unprecedented that there were more than 4,000 people, all recognized by the State of Israel as Jews, simply waiting in the Ethiopian province of Gondar to immigrate.
Some will be forced to stay there for up to three years before being brought to Israel.
“It should not be a problem at all,” said Molla. “I do not understand why the government does not provide more housing options for the more veteran immigrants to move into.”
He threatened that if the government moved ahead with the recommendation to reduce the immigrant flow, the community would have no choice but to step up its mass protests.
During Sunday’s demonstration, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver agreed to meet with the protest leaders in an attempt to calm fears that the new recommendation was meant to halt Ethiopian aliya completely.
Despite Landver’s efforts, however, protesters became emotional Sunday, and several people attempted to enter the fenced-off area surrounding the ministry, according to the protest organizers.
In addition, one of the protest leaders, Dr. Avraham Neguise, executive director of the South Wing to Zion organization, was arrested for not adequately coordinating the event with police.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a statement: “I know that the way to the State of Israel and absorption in it has not always been easy, and even today members of the community are finding certain things difficult, and we are trying to help them.”
However, he added, “integration has been impressive, and it is encouraging; it gives essence to this idea of returning to Zion and combining the absorption of the tribes of Israel. We are working to implement the desire to absorb here the rest of the Ethiopian Jewish community. It warms my heart to see the faith of thousands of years being realized.”