Israel Slams the Door on the Falash Mura

Ethiopia's Christianized Jews, once welcomed in Israel, are being turned away in droves

| March-April 1999

Last June, when the Israeli government airlifted 58 Christianized Ethiopian Jews (known as Falash Mura) from a refugee camp in Addis Ababa to Jerusalem, immigration officials declared it “the final load” in a series of Ethiopian evacuation operations stretching back to 1984. The compound where immigrants had been kept would be closed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced, and future immigration applications would be handled through normal channels.

But, as Abraham Rabinovich reports in the American Jewish magazine Moment (Dec. 1998), somebody forgot to tell the Falash Mura. Within days, thousands of refugees streamed into Addis Ababa in hopes of immigrating to Israel. More than 8,000 now await action by an Israeli government suddenly enmeshed in a bitter immigration struggle that holds little promise of resolution.

That the Falash Mura are descendants of Jews is undisputed; they broke away from the Ethiopian Jewish community (or Falasha) and began converting to Christianity more than a century ago. And under the Israeli Law of Return, which allows anyone with at least a single Jewish grandparent to immigrate, these Ethiopians should be welcomed into the country (indeed, thousands already have been). But Israeli immigration experts are now contesting the Ethiopians' Jewish credentials. “They didn't just identify as Christians, they lived Christian lives,” says Micha Feldman of the Jewish Agency. “They went to church and were buried in Christian cemeteries and lived in a Christian environment.”

Others charge that the Falash Mura are simply economic opportunists, poised to cash in on distant Jewish roots to escape from one of the poorest countries in the world. Israeli officials, who airlifted in more than 20,000 Ethiopians with clear Jewish credentials during Operation Moses in 1984 and Operation Solomon in 1991, are wary of setting a precedent that would make the country a magnet for impoverished immigrants with ambiguous Jewish ancestry. After finally allowing 5,000 Falash Mura to immigrate during the past two years, they have decided to draw the line.

But advocates argue that the widespread Christian conversions among the Falash Mura are understandable given the rampant persecution of Jews in Ethiopia. In Israel, they would be free to embrace Judaism once again, as most of the 8,000 to 10,000 Falash Mura there have done.

This emphasis on an untarnished Jewish lineage may, in fact, be a smoke screen. A Refugees International report by former U.S. diplomat Larry Thompson cites sources claiming that as many as 40 percent of the 8,000 Falash Mura now gathered at Addis Ababa may legally qualify for immigration under Israeli law. But Israeli authorities are imposing more restrictive and complex policies on Ethiopians than they are on Jews from other countries, he argues. The contrast to the welcome Israel has extended to Russian immigrants is particularly stark. “In Russia, dozens of Israeli emissaries are searching with magnifying glasses for Jews, half-Jews, quarter-Jews,” notes Yossi Schwartz in Hadassah magazine (Nov. 1998). That level of scrutiny has not been applied in Ethiopia.

1/15/2009 11:32:30 AM

The world community is pressuring the United States to stop arming and giving diplomatic immunity to Israel. This Israeli bombing of Gaza is inhumane and criminal. It amounts to Genocide and those responsible ought to be brought before an international criminal court of justice. The corporate fascist media in the U.S are nothing but Zionist apologists. The time has come for Israel to STOP once and for all its evil colonial occupation of Palestine. We have had enough with this domination, this unjust war against the Palestinians. Israel has engaged in an ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, and in a outgoing expansion of their Jewish settlements on Palestinian territories for years now. Hamas is a consequence of the brutal, abusive and ruthless Israeli occupation. The Palestinian people and Hamas are simply resisting and fighting for their freedom. It's a struggle for liberation and self determination. And for an autonomy and sovereignty that Israel has deny them for way too long now. As long as Israel continues its heinous crimes against the Palestinians There will be no "security for Israel" and no peace in the middle east. We owe it to the Palestinian people to have autonomy over their territories without Israeli intervention, occupation and control of their borders. All the Palestinians want is a sovereign Palestinian state or Palestinian territories. And a peaceful coexistence with Israel. Guillermo Kuhl ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, science for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance, how violently I hate all this, how despicable an ignorable war is; I would rather be torn to shred

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