Israel May Liberalize Policy on Falash Mora Immigration

Israel looks to be liberalizing slightly its policy of immigration for Falash Mora, descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity.

New procedures to be employed by the Interior Ministry will take into account some opinions of kessim, Jewish religious leaders in Ethiopia, in the determination of the Jewish status of the Falash Mora, informed sources said.

That status determines whether the immigrant can come to Israel under the Law of Return and receive full benefits as a Jewish immigrant.

The decision came in a response written by the State Attorney’s Office to a petition challenging existing policy. The petition was filed in the Supreme Court on behalf of a group of Falash Mora in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

The decision is a “90 percent victory,” said Michael Corinaldi, a local lawyer who represented the petitioners.

“We asked in the petition that all members of the community in Addis Ababa that have certificates (of their Jewishness) from the kessim be admitted to Israel under the Law of Return,” he said.

He said he hoped to see some other procedural matters ironed out at the hearing on the petition scheduled for Feb. 16.

But inside government sources cautioned against raising false hopes. They said the new procedures merely called for examining the certificates, and if their authenticity could be determined, to “take them into account.”

In the meantime, Corinaldi likened the Falash Mora to Spanish Marranos who were forced to convert to survive. “If they converted, it was Marrano-like,” he said.

Corinaldi estimated that up to 10,000 Falash Mora could be certified as Jewish by the kessim, including 3,000 to 4,000 in Addis Ababa.

Until now, some Falash Mora have been allowed to immigrate on humanitarian grounds to reunite with family here.

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