The Netanyahu cabinet on Sunday approved unanimously to fly to Israel the remaining Falash Mura who are still in transit camps in Ethiopia. Then those camps will be shut down and there will be no more organized aliyah from Ethiopia to Israel.
Falash Mura is the name given to Ethiopian and Eritrean Jews who converted to Christianity under pressure from the mission in the 19th and 20th centuries. The term refers both to Jews who did not adhere to Jewish law, and Jews who converted to Christianity, either voluntarily or by force.
Beta Israel (Hebrew: House of Israel or Community of Israel) are Jews who lived in North and North-Western Ethiopia, in more than 500 small villages. They renewed contacts with other Jewish communities in the later 20th century, and following halachic and constitutional considerations, Israel decided in 1977 that the Israeli Law of Return applied to them. The Israeli and American governments launched operations to transport the Ethiopian Jews to Israel from 1979 to the 1990s.
Today, Ethiopian Jews are still not well assimilated into Israeli society. They remain on a lower economic and educational level than average Israelis, and marriages between Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian Jews are not common. According to a 2009 study, 90% of Ethiopian-Israelis are married to other Ethiopian-Israelis. As many as 57% of Israelis consider a daughter marrying an Ethiopian unacceptable and 39% consider a son marrying an Ethiopian unacceptable. A 2011 study showed that only 13% of high school students of Ethiopian origin felt “fully Israeli.”
In May 2015, Israeli Ethiopians demonstrated in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem against racism, after a video was released, showing an Israeli Ethiopian soldier being brutally beaten up by two Israeli police.
However, according to Ha’aretz, 90 percent of the younger generation of Ethiopians in Israel have high-school education, almost the same percentage as the Jewish population in general (93 percent). The rate of matriculation is “only” 53 percent, but that is almost four times the figure for the first generation (16 percent). And 20 percent of second-generation Ethiopian Israelis have higher education, almost four times the rate of the first generation (5.7 percent). Employment among Ethiopians has jumped from 50 to 72 percent in 12 years, with women rising from 35% to 65%. And the percentage of Ethiopian Israelis working in janitorial services has fallen to only 5 percent.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement: “Today we have taken an important decision, to bring to Israel within the next five years the last of the communities with links to Israel waiting in Addis Ababa and Gonder.” The PM noted that this is an important move for Ethiopian families in Israel who have been split up.
The newcomers would have to undergo a conversion, as well as be taught Jewish values and the history of the Zionist movement.
Chairman of the Committee for Immigration Absorption and Diaspora, MK Avraham Negusa, who has been in the forefront of the fight to bring remaining Jews of Ethiopia for the past 25 years, congratulated Netanyahu and Interior Minister Silvan Shalom on today’s decision.
“This is a great day for the Jewish people,” Negusa said. “For thousands of years Ethiopian Jewry prayed to return to Israel and waited for nearly a decade torn from their families. Today their prayers were answered.”