Ethiopians Protest Slow Pace of Immigration

[This article was first published in The Jerusalem Post on August 12, 2002]

On the page of the article is the picture showing hundreds of Ethiopians immigrants holding pictures of their relatives. The caption under the picture reads, “Ethiopian immigrants hold pictures of their relatives still waiting to come here, as they protest against the slow pace of immigrant outside the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday. (Picture by Ariel Jerozolinsky/The Jerusalem Post)”

Fearing 21,000 Ethiopian Jews awaiting immigration will not be allowed into the country, hundreds of Ethiopians Jews demonstrated in front of the Prime Minister’s office yesterday in Jerusalem.

Last month only 200 Ethiopian Jews came, and this month the figure is even less, said Abraham Neguse, executive director of Southwing to Zion, an Ethiopian immigration advocacy group. He added that he fears Ethiopian immigration will soon stop altogether.

“Israel is begging Jews from all over the world to come, and here are Jews begging to come and they are being denied the right to enter Israel,” Neguse said. He added 7,000 of the Jews are in Addis Ababa, 11,000 in Gondar, and 3,000 spread out in villages.

Last year Jewish Agency Chairman Sallai Meridor said he estimated there were 18,000 Jews remaining in Ethiopia and promised to bring them here at a rate of 4,000 to 5,000 a year.

As of July 30, 1,917 had arrived. But according to agency spokeman Etphraim Lapid, many of them came earlier in the year, because in the last few months the numbers have slowed to several hundred a month.

He said Meridor’s initial estimate of 18,000 has proven to be incorrect. It’s now possible that only a few hundred that qualify for immigration under the Law of Return remain. Lapid said this new estimate does not reflect a change in policy.

Lapid added that the Interior Ministry sets the policy for entry, and the Jewish Agency merely follows its guidelines.

But Neguse said it is impossible that these Jews do not qualify, because in many cases those remaining are related to those who are already here. Parents left children and children left parents believing they would be allowed to immigrate soon and now they are still waiting for them to be allowed in, he said. He added that this type of family separation happens only with Ethiopian immigrants. “We see this as a discriminatory policy,” he said.

He added that before he was elected to office, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised he would bring all the remaining Ethiopians Jews here. “We are calling on the government to bring these people in immediately and to end their suffering and the family separation,” he said.

Hundreds of Ethiopian immigrants chanted, “Mother, father, brother, sister, bring them now, unite our families now.”

They held up photographs of their families members who are still in Ethiopia. Among them was Gitanash Bilat, 23, of Netanya, who immigrated four years ago. Showing a photograph of her parents, two sisters, and a brother, she explained that they are still stuck in Ethiopia. She has gone many times to the Interior Ministry to ask about them, but has yet to receive concrete information as to when they will arrive.

Interior Ministry Eli Yishai promised the protesters that if necessary, he will go to Ethiopia and investigate the matter.

He referred to a rabbinical decision given to former prime minister Golda Meir by Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that Ethiopian Jews are considered unequivocally Jewish. He promised to meet with community representative and do his best to help bring the remaining immigrants. “I don’t want you to suffer any more than you have to,” Yishai said.

A number of community representative met with him yesterday. During the meeting demonstrators tried to push their way into the building but were turned back by police.

Neguse said he was encouraged by the meeting. He said he is hopeful that Yishai can improve the situation. But if nothing happens, the Ethiopian community will renew its fight, he said.

A Message of Encouragement for People of Color Planning on Making Aliyah to Israel:

Do not be discouraged because of Lost Tribes — B’nei Menashe Indian Jews and Ethiopian Jews are being discriminated against. When the Ethiopian Jews were first brought to Israel they were told to be from Solomon and Sheba. Now, they tell them, “you from the tribe of Dan.”

We Afram-Jews, survived racism from the ARYANS, KKK, NEO-NAZIS AND SKIN-HEADS IN THE U.S. So, we can survive it here.

HASHEM made all us Jews uniquely different. Now, Yom Kippur is almost here and we expects HASHEM to hear us though this division still exists. When are we ever going to learn to accept each other? It is time to accept each other no matter what country, language, hair texture, facial features, skin color etc. And eliminate the bigot teachings that exists among us and is separating us further apart.

My grandmother (mother’s mother, married to a “white” Sephardi Jew from Spain in Jamaica, W.I.) a Carib-Ethiopian Jew used to say, “When it gets too dark, a skeptic comes to the surface.” I want to bring it to this issue, “It is getting too dark, with people of color making aliyah to Israel; now skeptics want to prove our non-existence.” My grandmother too faced discrimination not only as a Jew but, mostly because of her dark complexion.

Almost 58 year old, a grandmother of 4, this positive teaching from her remains in our family today.

With Ahavat Israel for all Jews, Hadassah Harr-Ell