Ethiopian Falash Mura may finally reach Israel under new proposal

Group proposes formalizing the immigration of thousands of Falash Mura, Ethiopian Jews who converted or stopped practicing Judaism, to finally bring them to Israel.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Political leaders, rabbis and Ethiopian religious leaders having been working together for the past few months to finalize guidelines to resolve the issue of bringing the Falash Mura from Ethiopia to Israel, Israel Hayom reported Tuesday.

The group compiled a report containing recommendations for the government and is expected to present it to Minister of Immigrant Absorption Penina Tamanu-Shata, herself an immigrant from Ethiopia, next week.

Over the years, tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews immigrated to Israel under trying circumstances and several thousand died in the attempt. However, the Falash Mura were left behind and some have been living in poverty and deprivation for more than 20 years.

The term “Falash Mura” refers to Ethiopians who claim to have been members of Beta Israel, the long-established Jewish community of Ethiopia, but whose ancestors were converted to Christianity either forcibly or voluntarily by missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries. It applies as well to members of Beta Israel who stopped practicing Judaism.

Even though the Falash Mura are descended from Ethiopian Jews, Christian converts do not qualify for aliyah (immigration) under Israeli law. Some have succeeded in moving to Israel over the years, but thousands remain in camps in Ethiopia waiting for the Israeli government to make a decision on their status.

“The actions of the Israeli government over the years have been in response to political pressures, and it has difficulty in making a decision on the issue of people waiting in Ethiopia. The Israeli government has no clear policy,” the report said.

“To date, nobody knows for sure how many are waiting in the communities, and the number ranges from 7,000 to 14,000 people. Therefore, state institutions prefer to avoid dealing with the issue.”

The report is still being revised as there are disagreements even within the Ethiopian community itself on what to do with the Falash Mura. The authors propose the government establish a public committee to formalize the policy and build a list of eligibility criteria for immigration.

The goal is to cut through the long-standing delays on the issue and set specific targets, including recommendations that Falash Mura members begin the immigration and absorption process while still in Ethiopia. These include Hebrew studies and vocational training as well as conversion studies to return to Judaism.

“People waiting there are being hugely wronged, and the issue isn’t being handled properly because of skin color, in addition to questions about [their] Judaism,” one activist told Israel Hayom.

“The fact that people are there and aren’t being told whether they can or can’t make aliyah is a disgrace. This insanity has to stop,” the activist said.

Veteran activist Ainao Freda Sanbeto said that over the last two decades missionary organizations were the ones determining who will immigrate to Israel and that many families “have become hostages.” Sanbeto said the group wants members of the Ethiopian community who are familiar with the Falash Mura to be handling requests for immigration.

“We demanded that Kessim (Ethiopian religious leaders) and community elders who are proficient in lineage issues will determine who is from the seed of Israel, and those who are found as such – their immigration will be approved,” Sanbeto said.

Sanbeto admitted that the proposal “is not perfect,” but said “the proposed outline will benefit anyone who wants the seed of Israel to return to Judaism and immigrate to Israel.”