Ethiopian Israelis protest after immigration plan axed
Hundreds of Ethiopian Israelis marched in Jerusalem on Sunday after the government cancelled plans to allow their relatives to emigrate from the African nation, calling the move discrimination.
The Israeli government had in November voted to allow the immigration of some 9,100 Ethiopians known as Falash Mura, descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity, many under duress, in the 18th and 19th centuries.
But on March 7, an official from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office informed members of parliament the decision would not be implemented because of budgetary constraints.
Police and organizers estimated the crowd at up to 2,000 people for Sunday’s march, which ended outside Netanyahu’s office.
“Our children, our parents are in Ethiopia,” they chanted, marching alongside elderly residents wearing more traditional garb, some leaning on canes.
Netanyahu’s office said it was working on bringing to Israel “elderly, solitary and dependent Falash Mura to ease their condition”.
But “the latest amendment to the budget law does not enable the government to take upon itself significant budgetary commitments to upcoming years, without regulating fiscal sources”, a statement read.
The issue will be discussed in the coming months as part of the budget discussions, the premier’s office said.
Netanyahu’s office considers reuniting Falash Mura families an issue “of humane and social importance”.
Leading the demonstration was MP Avraham Neguise, himself an immigrant from Ethiopia and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Along with MP David Amsalem, Neguise has boycotted all parliamentary votes since being told the government was walking back its November decision, and reiterated on Sunday he would continue doing so until the decree was reversed.
Netanyahu’s coalition holds only a one-seat majority in parliament.
Israel’s Ethiopian community includes some 135,000 people.
Israel brought the bulk of Ethiopia’s Jewish community to the country between 1984 and 1991 under the Law of Return guaranteeing citizenship to all Jews, but the law does not apply to the Falash Mura.