Ethiopian aliyah may restart

By Anshel Pfeffer, December 3, 2009

The lobby calling for the renewed emigration of the Falashmura to Israel scored a significant victory this week after the Jewish Agency confirmed that it would support bringing more than 8,000 members of the Ethiopian community to Israel.

The Jewish Agency chairman Nathan Sharansky will ask the Israeli government to renew its efforts to bring over the members of the Falashmura currently living in a compound in the Ethiopian city of Gondar. This is a reversal of the agency’s previous policy and of the government’s decision that all Falashmura emigration was to end in 2008.

The Falashmura are a group of Ethiopians who claim their ancestors were coerced to convert to Christianity. Israeli rabbis have ruled that they are of Jewish descent and an arrangement with the government allowed them to enter Israel on condition they re-convert to Judaism, after which they receive citizenship.

Jewish organisations in North America and the pro-Falashmura lobby in Israel have been pressuring the Agency and the Israeli government to reverse its decision to end the Falashmura emigration.

With the change of government eight months ago, they have begun to succeed.

New Interior Minister Eli Yishai has already ordered the return of his ministry’s officials to Ethiopia in order to assess the eligibility of some 3,000 Falashmura who requested Israeli citizenship in the past. Mr Sharansky’s decision is seen as a capitulation to their demands.

A delegation of Knesset members this week visited the 12,000 Falashmura who live in Gondar and promised them they would work to enable them to emigrate to Israel.

Last updated: 4:56pm, December 3 2009