Sat | May 25, 2019

Jews protest Israeli gov't's emigration delays

Published:Tuesday | November 20, 2018 | 12:00 AM



Hundreds of Ethiopian Jews gathered in the capital, Addis Ababa, to protest the Israeli government's decision not to allow all of them to emigrate to Israel, leaving their families divided between the two countries.

Representatives of the 8,000 Jews in Ethiopia urged the Ethiopian Jews living in Israel to think carefully before voting for Israel's ruling party, the Likud, over the delays in repatriation to Israel.

The Ethiopian Jews claim they are being blocked from emigrating to Israel, despite a 2015 pledge to allow them to do so by the Israeli government.

"I urge Ethiopian Jews to think twice before voting for the Likud party because the party's leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, is not keeping his words to help us emigrate to Israel," Neggousa Zemene Alemu, head coordinator of the Ethiopian Jews in the Ethiopian cities of Addis Ababa and Gondar, told The Associated Press Monday as hundreds gathered at a synagogue in Addis Ababa.

"I don't believe the Israeli government has a financial problem to immigrate the remaining Ethiopian Jews back to Israel," he said. "I rather think it is a political move or racism."

The Israeli government decided on October 7 that just 1,000 Ethiopian Jews would be permitted to move to Israel, which would live many families divided, according to leaders of Ethiopia's Jewish community. They said Ethiopian Jews are starving, ostracised and deprived of basic needs in Africa while the government in Israel is "dragging its feet to come to our rescue".

Eyayu Abuhay, a community organiser, said 50 Ethiopian Jews have died since 2015 while waiting to join their family members in Israel. "We want Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to come to our rescue before we all die here," he said.

Most of the more than 8,000 Ethiopian Jews in the East African nation are practising Jews and believed to have family members that already reside in Israel. Some told AP they have been separated for more than a decade.

But Israel doesn't consider them Jewish under strict religious law, meaning their immigration requires special approval. They are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity around a century ago, and the Israeli government views bringing them to Israel as family reunification rather than 'aliya', or Jewish immigration. The families allege discrimination.

In 1991, with Ethiopia in civil war, Israel carried out the dramatic Operation Solomon which airlifted some 14,500 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in less than two days. Now about 145,000 Ethiopian Jews are estimated to be living in Israel.

"Why are we not allowed to immigrate to Israel? Is it because we are black or uneducated?" asked Melese Sidisto, a coordinator for Ethiopian Jews in Addis Ababa, who then burst into tears.