Let my brothers come

415 members of the Jewish community died in Addis Ababa while waiting to be approved for immigration to Israel. The majority of these individuals had family in Israel, who waited in vain for their arrival. The Jewish community in Gondar lacked the ability to keep records; however, considering the fact that the community is twice the size of that in Addis Ababa, the number of deceased may be twice as big. By denying and delaying the few individuals still waiting in Gondar and Addis Ababa the right to Aliya, the State of Israel is enabling that list to grow.

The Interior Ministry is in possession of an accurate list that includes 1600 families of Ethiopian Jews who are denied Aliya to this day. The Israeli government encouraged these families to leave their homes and villages in order to realize their dream of returning to the Holy Land. They are members of active Jewish communities whose religious lives revolve around their synagogues, who maintain laws of family purity with their mikvehs, and who attend classes on Judaism, and are nonetheless alienated by the establishment. The Interior Ministry is aware of the fact that 80% of the families have a first degree relative in Israel, waiting anxiously to reunite with their loved ones. Many are related to lone IDF soldiers, who send the little money they earn to help their poverty stricken relatives in Ethiopia. The fact that the Interior Ministry does not conduct an immediate investigation and bring the 1600 families to Israel is unconscionable.

We raised this painful issue before the Knesset Absorption Committee four months ago, with the assistance of MK Chillik Bar (chairman of of the Labor party). The discussion ended in a consensus of the members of the absorption committee, who agreed that an end must be put to the great tragedy of the torn families and denied Ethiopian Jews. However, since the discussion the government has abandoned the Jewish community in Gondar, as it did over ten years ago in Addis Ababa. An expensive PR campaign celebrated  “The completion of Ethiopian Aliya.” The campaign included several flights of public officials to Ethiopia, festive ceremonies, and colorful articles that included interviews with speakers from the Prime Minister’s office.

An appeals committee appointed by Interior Minister Gidon Sa’ar is currently investigating the situation in Ethiopia in order to make a recommendation to the government regarding the individuals being denied Aliya rights. We hope the committee’s recommendations will put an end to the difficult situation and bureaucratic red tape preventing the Aliya of the remaining Ethiopian Jews.

Last week the Department of African Studies in the Ben Gurion University in Beersheba held a conference in the presence of members of Knesset and other dignitaries, under the banner “Unite Families Now, Justice for Ethiopian Jews.” In that conference MK Chillik Bar, has declared: “There is no doubt of their (Ethiopian Jewry) Judaism because their family is here in Israel.  We must put great pressure on the government. The Jewish Agency has closed the project while the government is still looking into the issue…”, MK Shimon Solomon added: “I will work from my place so the suffering of the families will stop, brothers and sisters have been torn apart, we cannot let this suffering continue”. MK Pnina Tamno-Shata has committed to arrange a petition that will be handed to the minister of interior Gidon Saar.

There are two bureaucratic reasons for not allowing the reunification of these families for the last 20 years. The first is the outrageous 2003 government decision to deny the remainder of Ethiopian Jewry Aliya based on the right of return. Instead, the government decided to enable Aliya only for Jews with proven maternal ancestry going back seven generations (in addition to the years of denying Jews in Ethiopia support from the administration). The second reason is the old and well known policy of the Absorption Ministry to avoid future absorption of Ethiopian Jews.

A painful testimony to this fact is evident in the story of Molokan Sisai, who immigrated to Israel over six months ago. Molokan, an observant Jew, made Aliya with his brother and was immediately drafted to the IDF, and is still denied immigration status by the Absorption Ministry. While Molokan is in Israel, 25 additional families who were officially approved for immigration by former Interior Minister Eli Yishai were denied immigration at the last minute.  The request of families to immigrate was denied due to the fact that the Absorption Ministry and Ehud Prauer, representative of the Prime Minister’s office, made it clear that they would receive the same treatment as Molokan.

It is time for Israeli society to eradicate this ongoing injustice. Even those who deny the Jewishness of the remaining Ethiopian Jews cannot deny the fact that the State of Israel, which began this process, is responsible for its completion.

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About the Author
Uri Perednik runs the "Struggle for the Aliyah of Ethiopian Jewry". He has been working with Ethiopian Jews for several years, both in Ethiopia and in Israel. He is a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.