Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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23 Shevat 5765 - February 2, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Sharon: All of the Falashmura will be Brought to Israel Over the Next 3 Years

By G. Lazer

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon held a special meeting on Monday 21 Shevat to discuss the aliya of the Bnei Falashmura following demonstrations and legal and party pressure. At the conclusion of the meeting Sharon announced he had decided to bring all of the Bnei Falashmura to Israel within three years and to double the number of Falashmura immigrants every month.

The decision was also influenced by a High Court decision not to rule on an appeal demanding accelerated immigration of the Falashmura.

Two thousand relatives of the Falashmura demonstrated outside of the Prime Minister's Office while the meeting was taking place. Communal leaders praised the Prime Minister's decision but protested against further aliya quotas, which they claim stem from "racist motivations."

"While children are dying of starvation in Ethiopia the government waited for four months before doubling the aliya rate," they complained. The protesters' campaign began when Immigration Absorption Minister T. Livni said, "The State cannot properly absorb the Bnei Falashmura living in Ethiopia because of budget problems."

At the meeting, attended by Interior Minister Ophir Pines, Justice and Immigrant Absorption Minister T. Livni, Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency Chairman Sallai Meridor, it was also decided to place the transit camps where 15,000 Ethiopians are now waiting into the hands of the Jewish Agency.

The decision set into motion a previous government decision made two years ago and "frozen," according to which, "the Interior Ministry and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel would immediately begin to complete checking the origins of those waiting for permission to come to Israel in the transit camps in Addis Ababa and Gundar in order to verify their origin over the preceding generations." The government charged a special ministerial committee with the task of inquiring into the activities required and the source of funding to execute the decision. Yet the decision was "frozen" due to opposition by Ethiopian immigrants already in Israel who claimed that the Bnei Falashmura are Christians masquerading as Jews, and Ethiopian Jews do not even marry them.

Government officials noted this aliya would be never-ending since every month more Ethiopians enter the transit camps, claiming they are Jews. According to the recent decision starting in June of this year the number of Ethiopian immigrants would be doubled from 300 to 600 per month. Sharon has given the Ministers of the Interior, Absorption, Finance and Foreign Affairs as well as the Jewish Agency three months to prepare a detailed, comprehensive plan to take in the Bnei Falashmura according to the eligibility list approved by the Interior Ministry.

Legal figures say the Bnei Falashmura in Ethiopia are not eligible to immigrate based on the Law of Return since their great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents converted to Christianity. This group numbering 17,000 has remained outsiders and not even been fully assimilated into Christian society. After abandoning their homes and property in their villages a few years ago, they have been waiting for years under extremely severe conditions in transit camps in Addis Ababa and Gundar for entry visas to Israel. Another 4,000 Bnei Falashmura remain in the villages.

In response to the decision, Absorption Minister T. Livni said, "I welcome the arrival of every immigrant. I am glad this will be done with the assistance of the Finance Ministry and subject to suitable absorption [conditions] for immigrants."

Interior Minister Ophir Pines set three conditions for the plan to double the quota on Falashmura immigration: 1) that the new immigrants be absorbed only in centrally located cities and established towns, 2) that the Interior Ministry receive special funding earmarked for checking the eligibility of the Bnei Falashmura to immigrate and 3) that the new immigrants' citizenship not be contingent on conversion but be granted immediately upon immigration.

"We welcome the decision," said spokesmen for the Jewish Agency. "This is a Zionist decision of the first degree and spares many people waiting to make aliya, primarily children and youths, from human suffering."

The spokesman for Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Giyur, founded by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt"l, told Yated Ne'eman that according to maranan verabonon, since the origins of the Bnei Falashmura are in doubt and cannot be verified, they must undergo a full conversion process (giyur misofeik), including fully accepting the yoke of mitzvas. Since they have assimilated and were severed from other Jews for hundreds of years their Jewish status is unclear and they should not be brought to Eretz Yisroel before the rabbinical establishment here, in cooperation with the government, completes arrangements for the conversion process.

The Vaad spokesman also said that in his view it remains very doubtful that the Chief Rabbinate has the ability to carry this out properly since the Conversion Authority today is in the hands of individuals who conduct conversions without ensuring that the candidate has a genuine intention of keeping mitzvas.

According to media reports from nine years ago, he added, Ethiopian immigrants reached an agreement with the Chief Rabbinate — in opposition to the opinion of gedolei Yisroel — that they could register for marriage at the Rabbinate without having to undergo conversion.


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