JERUSALEM, May 31 (JTA) Israelis have a generally positive view of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, but they are divided over whether to allow a mass immigration of 26,000 Falash Mura, according to a new poll.
The poll, commissioned by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, was released Wednesday as the organization announced a commitment of between $3 million and $5 million over the next two years to help finance the absorption of Ethiopian emigres.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the fellowship, said findings that Israelis are very accepting of Ethiopian immigrants indicate that the difficult absorption process can be improved.
“If we combine the positive views with greater financial allocation to help in areas of job training, placement and education, the immigrants here will indeed reach the same level one generation from now that others have,” he said.
His comments included a warning: “If we don’t take advantage of this window of opportunity, in the next five to 10 years it will explode in Israeli society.”
One day before the poll was released, the Jewish Agency for Israel flew 100 Falash Mura from Ethiopia to Israel.
The group was the first to arrive since Interior Minister Natan Sharansky visited Ethiopia last month to assess the situation of the thousands of Falash Mura Ethiopians whose ancestors converted from Judaism to Christianity who have amassed in transit camps hoping to emigrate to the Jewish state.
In a related development, the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency announced the allocation of about $240,000 for extra staff people to process some 5,000 to 6,000 additional Ethiopian emigres.
According to the poll, 49 percent of Israelis said Israel has behaved “adequately” in absorbing the Ethiopian Jews, and another 9 percent said the country has done an “exceptionally good” job.
The remainder of the responses ranged from “minimally acceptable” to “exceptionally badly.”
Nevertheless, responses to several questions indicated that a strong majority view the immigration of Ethiopians as a great success, and 63 percent said they consider it a net gain for Israel.
Only 29 percent considered the immigrants a burden on the economy.
Other responses contradicted complaints of racism often voiced by the Ethiopians.
An overwhelming 89 percent said they would be happy to be treated by an Ethiopian doctor, and 95 percent said they would not mind having their child serve under an Ethiopian officer in the army.
One question touched on the issue of marriage.
Of those polled, 71 percent would consider it “a problem” for their children or grandchildren to date or marry an Ethiopian.
“It’s very similar to the Sephardic experience that happened here,” said Eckstein. “Part of the poll also indicated that most Israelis don’t know or have Ethiopian friends. I believe that as integration increases and there are more friendships that number will increase.”
Those polled showed far less acceptance of Russian immigrants.
When asked who, if they were acting as an employer, would be their first choice between three equally qualified candidates for a job, only 3 percent said a Russian, while 38 percent chose a sabra Hebrew for native-born Israeli and 22 percent chose an Ethiopian.
On the Falash Mura issue, 35 percent said they supported accepting the 26,000 Ethiopians waiting for approval to come to Israel as citizens.
Another 18 percent preferred granting entry to a limited group, while 26 percent rejected the Falash Mura completely and 21 percent had no opinion.
Israelis are also divided over the ongoing debate on whether to change the Law of Return, which grants immediate citizenship to anyone who had a Jewish parent or grandparent.
While 39 percent said the law should not be changed, 41 percent said it should be more restrictive.