Relatives of the Ferris Mora – descendants of Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity – have begun a sit-down strike here to protest a government decision to allow only 100 of the group into Israel.
“One hundred is not enough,” said a group spokesman.
“These are our brothers,” said Shmuel Maharat. They are Jews who made it to Addis Ababa in the hope of getting to Israel.”
Some 4,000 Ferris Mora have left their villages and fled to the Ethiopian capital because of harassment by their neighbors. They are reportedly waiting in Addis Ababa for Israel to open its gates to them.
The sit-down follows a recent decision by the Cabinet Aliyah Committee to permit 100 of the group, who have close relatives here and whose cases have been individually considered, to enter the country.
The Ferris Mora, who are presently Christian, claim Jewish descent and say there were converted against their will long ago. Estimates vary widely as to how many of the group live in Ethiopia, and how many want to immigrate to Israel. Some put their numbers in hundreds, others in hundreds of thousands.
A government-appointed fact-finding team that visited Ethiopia earlier this year reported that the Ferris Mora, to all intents and purposes, live as Christians.
The team recommended against their early aliyah to Israel, but said efforts might be made while they are in Ethiopia to return them to the Jewish faith.
Jewish Agency Chairman Simcha Dinitz said Monday that the government determines immigration policy and that the agency has no decision-making function. “Nor are we a theological agency,” he added, in reference to the halachic aspects of the issue.
But Jewish Agency experts who spent long periods of time in Ethiopia had reached conclusions about the Ferris Mora compatible with the findings guiding government policy, he said. At the same time, all cases involving reunion of close family members need quick resolution, he said.
“It is inconceivable that family reunion be prevented because one or another party belongs to the Ferris Mora,” said Dinitz. “The humanitarian aspect cries out for solution.”
Still, the Ethiopian government does not view the group as Jewish and strongly objects to any Israeli attempt to bring them to Israel, Dinitz said.