Budget approval brings Jews in Ethiopia a step closer to Israel – The Times of Israel

by Zelalem

Activists campaigning to bring Ethiopia’s Jews to Israel inched closer to their goal during a 21-hour marathon budget approval last Friday, but they are waiting to see what will happen before breaking out the champagne.

In the 2017-2018 budget, the Finance Ministry allocated a budget that would enable 1,300 Ethiopians to move to Israel, to be divided among a number of entities, including the Interior Ministry, the Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency, among others, according to MK David Amsalem (Likud) spokesman Nimrod Eliran Sabbah.

Immigration to Israel could resume as soon as November 2016, and continue at a rate of approximately 100 people per month. There are approximately 90 people in Ethiopia who were already approved by the Interior Ministry three years ago but did not come to Israel because there was no budget for their absorption, including housing allowances for at least two years in an absorption center and a NIS 400,000 grant to buy an apartment. That group of 90 people could begin arriving within the month, though it is unlikely.

There are approximately 9,000 Jews still living in Ethiopia who were not allowed to immigrate to Israel because the Interior Ministry determined they were not Jewish. Ethiopian Jews counter that the process to determine Jewish identity was poorly executed and inaccurate, dividing families. At least 80% of the Jews in Ethiopia have first-degree relatives living in Israel.

The Jews left behind in Ethiopia are classified as Falashmura, a term for Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity, often under duress, generations ago. Falashmura are not considered eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, which requires at least one Jewish grandparent and disqualifies someone who has converted to another religion, even if the conversion happened a long time ago.