MKs furious with gov´t hindering of Ethiopian aliya (JERUSALEM POST) By RUTH EGLASH 02/22/12)
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Knesset members grew increasingly frustrated Tuesday as they tried to
understand why the government was continuing to hinder the flow of
aliya from Ethiopia, even after it committed just over a year ago to
allow thousands of Ethiopians of Jewish heritage to immigrate.
Speaking at an emergency hearing of the Knesset’s Aliya, Absorption
and Diaspora Committee, National Union MK Uri Ariel said that instead
of speeding up the aliya of thousands of Ethiopian Jews living in
dire conditions in Gondar, “the government is finding all different
reasons to slow it down.”
Ariel – joined in the meeting by the Knesset’s only Ethiopian-born
MK, Shlomo Molla (Kadima), and session chairwoman MK Yulia Shamalov-
Berkovich (Kadima) – was referring to a recent government policy to
cut back on the number of people arriving each month from 200 to only
110, even though there are ample room and resources in Jewish Agency-
run immigrant absorption centers.
The new policy contrasts with a declaration the government made in
November 2010 to continue the flow of aliya, allowing roughly 8,000
Falash Mura – Ethiopians of Jewish decent – to come to Israel. To
date, 6,000 have been officially approved for aliya, and half of
those have already arrived here; the rest continue to live in abject
poverty in the Ethiopian city of Gondar until the government here
decides they can come.
“I believe that not only should the government continue bringing in
200 people each month, but numbers should even be increased to get
them here sooner,” said Ariel, who visited Gondar together with Molla
last September and viewed the difficult living conditions of the
remaining 3,000 people.
The National Union MK said the government’s policy of slowing the
rate down stood in stark contrast to the country’s general approach
of helping Jews in other troubled areas immigrate as quickly as
“Anyone who says that it’s not a big deal, that slowing down the
number of people arriving here is okay, does not understand the
situation these people are facing,” he emphasized, asking, “How can
we say to a Jew who is suffering somewhere, just wait a little longer
and then you can come?”
While no representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office were present
to answer Ariel, Immigrant Absorption Ministry officials pointed out
that under the original government declaration, the aliya process
could be slowed down and even extended if a vital reason to do so
The recommendation to reduce the number of people arriving came last
November from an inter-ministerial committee headed by former Finance
Ministry director-general Haim Shani.
Among its findings, the committee pointed out that many new
immigrants were struggling to leave absorption centers, where they
live for the first few years after arriving here, and consequently
the centers had limited space for newer immigrants. The committee
also pointed out that pressure was mounting on other services
required for a successful absorption process, such as education and
In Tuesday’s meeting, Molla discounted those arguments, saying that
he had researched the topic thoroughly and found that the Jewish
Agency, which is responsible for facilitating the aliya and
absorption of the new immigrants, could easily accommodate an
increase in the number of people arriving each month.
Figures Molla presented – and the Jewish Agency confirmed at
Tuesday’s meeting – show that there are 1,200 spare beds available
for new immigrants in some 16 absorption centers nationwide.
“It is so frustrating to arrive at a hearing and present information
after doing all the research, only to have the [Immigrant Absorption]
ministry tell me that I am wrong,” Molla told The Jerusalem Post
after the hearing.
Haim Katsav, the ministry’s deputy director for housing, had disputed
Molla’s numbers at the meeting, saying that there was less space
“The government should be bringing those it promised to bring, and we
will continue to fight until this is changed,” stated Molla.
Shamalov-Berkovich, who was temporarily replacing the committee’s
standing chairman Danny Danon (Likud), said that she was new to the
challenges facing Ethiopian aliya, but that after the hearing, she
was now determined to join the fight.
“I am shocked by what I have heard in this committee meeting today,”
she told the Post. “I now plan to become very involved in this issue.”
Meanwhile, Amos Arbel, director of the Registration and Civil Status
Department in the Interior Ministry, told the hearing that other
groups had already started to come forward demanding the right to
He said Interior Minister Eli Yishai had recently received a new list
of Ethiopian nationals who wanted to immigrate, most because they had
relatives already living here. In addition, Arbel said that Interior
Ministry representatives in Gondar had discovered a further 400
people eligible to make aliya under the Law of Return.
Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar officially recognized the Falash
Mura as part of the Jewish people in 2002, and they were allowed to
make aliya under a special clause in the Law of Entry.
The immigrants must also undergo a conversion to Judaism upon arrival
in Israel. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 02/22/12)
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