Why search for potential Jews when there are Jews knocking on your doors?

An open letter to Minister Naftali Bennett

By Aliza Bodner, JPOST

A SIGN for a Jewish village in Ethiopia

Last week, a committee appointed by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry which you head made public a report recommending that the government strengthen ties with a potential 60 million individuals worldwide who have some “affinity” to Judaism. According to the 152-page report, this includes individuals who “do not even see themselves as Jewish.”

Minister Bennett, why are you investing in a plan to seek out potential Jews when the government has still not upheld its previous rulings to bring the remaining 8,000 members of the Jewish community in Ethiopia to Israel, who have been waiting in some cases for over 20 years to receive approval from the Israeli government to immigrate to Israel and reunite with their loved ones.

On November 11, 2015, the government issued a unanimous decision (No. 716) to bring the remaining Jews of Ethiopia, who at that time numbered approximately 9,000, to Israel within five years. The decision called for the establishment of a committee, to include the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office and other government representatives, within 60 days of the decision. That committee was never formed. Furthermore, the decision was later rejected, due to claims that the government could not find a budget to bring the remaining Jews of Ethiopia to Israel.

A subsequent decision was passed on August 11, 2016, which approved the immigration of 1,300 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 2017. Clause five of that decision also called for the subject of the continuation of immigration to be brought forward for government approval and discussion within the framework of the 2019 budget, should the Immigration Authority determine that there are more than 1,300 individuals eligible for immigration.

During a State Control Committee hearing on February 12, 2018, the director general of the Immigration Authority, Prof. Shlomo Mor Yosef, stated that, “The maximum number of potential immigrants from Ethiopia, without checking, stands at 7,691.” Despite prior government decisions and the facts on the ground, the continuation of the Ethiopian immigration was left out of the 2019 budget, that was passed in mid-March.

The cabinet continues to delay immigration from Ethiopia due to budgetary claims. An OECD report that was published on March 11, 2018, reported that, “Israel’s economy continues to register remarkable macroeconomic and fiscal performance. Growth is strong and unemployment low and falling.” The labor market “is close to or at full employment.”

During war and economic challenges, Israel opened its gates to myriads of immigrants from the four corners of the Earth. According to a 2017 report issued by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, since 1948, 3.2 million immigrants have arrived in Israel, a country that now has approximately 8.5 million residents. In 1991, Israel absorbed over 14,000 Jews from Ethiopia in under two days. As an immigrant country that has a thriving economy, why can Israel not find a budget to bring the remaining 8,000 Jews from Ethiopia to Israel?

The approximately 8,000 Jews remaining in Ethiopia are divided between Addis Ababa and Gondar. These are descendants of Jews who underwent forced conversion to Christianity over a century ago and who have since returned to strict adherence to Jewish practice. Over 70% have first-degree relatives in Israel. Over 20 years ago, the Interior Ministry separated families and made promises that those who were left behind would join their remaining family members in Israel in just a few weeks’ time; over 20 years later, the family members in Israel have served their country in the military while sisters and brothers, sons and daughters and mothers and fathers left behind in Ethiopia are still waiting for the promises of the Interior Ministry.

Tigabu Worku, the cantor of the synagogue in Addis Ababa, who has been separated for over 18 years from his two sisters who immigrated to Israel in 1999, stated in a recent interview, “20 years already have passed since we have left the city in order to immigrate to Israel, not to wait for 20 years. Our hearts are in pain. When we sing ‘Next Year in Jerusalem,’ this is what we yearn for.”

Minister Bennett, if you are so concerned about bringing more Jews to Israel, then why don’t you lobby the government and your own cabinet to adhere to decisions it has already passed regarding immigration of Jews who speak Hebrew, pray three times per day and observe Jewish law? Minister Bennett, instead of searching the world for people with a possible “affinity” to Judaism, I suggest you pay attention to the cries of the 8,000 Jews who are knocking on your door, begging for you to hear their voices and to join you, “Next year in Jerusalem!”

The author is the spokesperson to foreign media for the advocacy organization The Struggle for Ethiopian Aliyah. She can be reached at iamalisab@gmail.com.

April 11, 2018 | 8 Comments »

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8 Comments / 8 Comments

  1. @ Bear Klein:

    This is tragic, seemingly a primitive “honour code” like the Arabs…… Now I understand what you were referring to. The Absorption Ministry, as soon as the people land in Israel, and during their Ulpan period, should have special classes dealing with this “man is the boss” custom, and keep it in front of everyone until they are satisfied that in case of marital problems they will seek outside assistance. They could be profiled this way right from the beginning and placed in the casebook of a Social Worker who would follow it up regularly.

    Tragic, that they waited for so many years to come to Israel, their dream, and then to find they have potentially deadly problems they never were prepared for. Another solution might be that the govt. after due examinations and tests, should appoint a Headman and assistants, for a specific area, to whom these couples could come, the way they had done in Ethiopia.


  2. @ Bear Klein:

    Bear- I was not suggesting in any way that you were against their Aliyah, and if it seemed so, I apologise. You mention their assimilation difficulties, but give no indication of what they are/were…..

    I DO know, from much past reading, that Ethiopian “social” attitudes towards lending wives and daughters to visitors used to be the norm, and most fathers really didn’t know if their reputed progeny were actually theirs. It mattered nothing to them anyway.

    So I’m wondering if that has anything to do with the “difficulties” you mention.. Although, I would think, that having reverted many years ago to Torah Judaism, any signs of the practices of surrounding peoples, that they might have followed, would have been speedily eradicated.

  3. @ Edgar G.:
    I am not against their aliyah. I was simply pointing out the issues (which are still real). Yes, I am sure some of the Ethiopian Jews who have successfully assimilated into Israel can help with the integration of the others.

    I am also for bringing in the “Lost Tribes” who want to make aliyah.

  4. @ Bear Klein:

    Slow or not they are Jews to whom we promised spoeedy repatriation. And we have not kept that promise. The Ethiopian Community in Israel now has become consolidated to a degree, and perhaps might be able to take a large part of the integration of their kinsmen in hand. This would be a common-sense approach, as they must be completely familiar with all the quirks and problems, having gone through them already.

    Whichever way the govt does it, it MUST be done, and quickly. The betrayal is against all of Israel’s humanitarian standards.

  5. @ Sebastien Zorn:
    Observation shows, there is a degree of dysfunction found in the families of the Ethiopian Jews that was not found in Jews from the Arab countries. https://www.haaretz.com/1.5166910

    So when you take the compound factors of education (or lack thereof), cultural differences, race as a community their absorption has been slow. There are starting to be many individual success stories from this community but overall it is very slow.

  6. Perhaps they are thinking of the absorption difficulties they have experienced with Ethiopian Jews but don’t want to say so out loud for fear of being called racist. On the other hand, didn’t Israel face the same sort of problems in the beginning absorbing the Jews who were forced to flee from the similiarly under-developed Arab countries? It would be interesting if somebody would do a comparative study.