At least 1,000 immigrants from the community are expected to come to Israel in 2019, but the fate of the rest of them is uncertain.

Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog welcomes Ethiopian immigrants. (photo credit: JEWISH AGENCY)

It has been a long time coming – way too long – but the first group of Ethiopian immigrants who were approved by the government last year to be brought to Israel arrived late Monday night.

Members of the local Ethiopian community welcomed the newcomers after years of delay, but are frustrated nonetheless.

These 83 new olim are a small fraction of some 8,000 members of the community who have been languishing in Gondar and Addis Ababa for more years than we would like to admit, leaving us to wonder: is it the smell of racism, or a whiff of political malfeasance that is a mark of shame on the Israeli government?

We recognize that the issue is not simple: these Falash Mura do not have the right to citizenship under the Law of Return, as they are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity centuries ago, often under duress – but who still identify as Jews.

Instead, they are granted citizenship under the Law of Entry at the discretion of the interior minister, mostly for family reunification – which has not always been forthcoming.

This is an old story, a protracted political battle that was unnecessary from the beginning. In November 2015, a cabinet decision promised family reunification over a five-year period for the remaining 9,000 Falash Mura waiting to move to Israel.

But, it was an empty promise: the government never budgeted the approximately NIS 200 million ($55 million) per year needed to absorb the new immigrants, and the already slow trickle ground to a halt over a year ago.

By the end of 2017, about 1,300 had been approved and immigrated, but some 8,000 still remained in Ethiopia, yearning for Israel and yearning to see their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters again.

Just one Ethiopian Jewish family was allowed to immigrate to Israel in 2018: Israel Bible Quiz participant Sintayehu Shafrao and his family.

Then, this past October, the government decided to bring another 1,000 members of the community who already had first-degree relatives living in Israel.

But not all of them – and families have been split. Twenty-six-year-old Bilililgn Zigale told The Jerusalem Post’s Jeremy Sharon about his mixed feelings.

“I am happy and also sad because I am here, but my sisters are still in Gondar,” Zigale said. “I am very happy that my father and mother were able to come, but my relatives who are still in Gondar are crying because they have not been allowed to come yet.”

Among those who fulfilled their dream of aliyah on Monday night were three siblings, who were supposed to travel with their mother. She had waited many years to immigrate before finally being granted that right in the government decision in October.

She died three weeks ago.

This is a story being repeated over and over, of families split apart.

The ongoing piecemeal approvals by the government continue to divide families, and all Israeli leaders must ask themselves: would you not move more quickly on this if it was your mother, your daughter, your sister?

At least 1,000 immigrants from the community are expected to come to Israel in 2019, but the fate of the rest of them is uncertain.

The Israeli government begs every community in the world to make aliyah, but ignores its own decisions regarding Ethiopian Jewry. It is hard not to see the government’s actions as anything but discriminatory.

It is also hard not to be cynical over the timing of Monday night’s landing at Ben-Gurion, coming as it does in the midst of an election campaign. We implore this government to implement previous cabinet decisions, and not just use Ethiopians as political fodder ahead of the elections.

Simple logic and human mercy dictate that parents, children and siblings who have already been granted the right to immigrate should be allowed to bring their family members as well. After so many years of having been persecuted; surviving famine and civil war; having barely any medical care; and in constant danger of antisemitic attacks – isn’t it time?

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