Falash Mura falsehoods


With advocates for Ethiopian immigration to Israel stepping up their pressure on the new Israeli administration to reopen the country’s immigration gates, the Israeli Interior Ministry is dispatching a pair of representatives to Ethiopia to verify the aliyah credentials of several thousand more Ethiopian immigrant hopefuls — known as Falash Mura.

As with nearly everything to do with the Falash Mura — Ethiopians claiming links to descendents of converts from Judaism in a bid to immigrate to Israel — inaccuracies and exagerrations abound.

For example, in a report by Israel Broadcasting Authority News featured on the Jerusalem Post Web site, reporter Sarah Levine says thousands of Falash Mura living in "refugee camps" have had a "lifelong dream" to move to Israel and have been separated from families who were "airlifted" to the Jewish state.

Actually, the thousands of Ethiopians in the city of Gondar, Ethiopia who hope to make aliyah live in private abodes, not refugee camps; there are no refugee camps in Gondar. The Ethiopians under discussion are from rural farming villages, and they migrated to the city of Gondar seeking to move to Israel. Once there, however, they have little means of making a living. So a group supported by the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) provides them with some food aid, schooling, etc. at aid centers NACOEJ calls compounds. These are not "refugee camps." The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee used to run a health center in Gondar that provided medical care, but it shut down after its client population all moved to Israel (or were rejected as ineligible for aliyah).

Second, few of these Ethiopians have had a "lifelong dream" to move to Israel. According to interviews I conducted in Ethiopia over the course of multiple trips and in places in Gondar city and the rural hinterlands where these Ethiopians come from, most had never heard of Israel until told about it by family members and advocates for aliyah. They are the ones who have been encouraging them to seek permission to immigrate to Israel and told them they must be in Gondar — where they cannot make a living — in order to do so.

Third, their family members have not been "airlifted" to Israel. They were given free tickets on regularly scheduled commercial flights on Ethiopian Airlines — one of the benefits of aliyah. Except unlike other olim, these Ethiopians get far more pre-aliyah guidance and post-aliyah government support.

Fourth, Levine says the Falash Mura have been separated from their families. But she fails to mention that that’s because their family members chose to move to Israel and haven’t been back to visit. No one forced them to leave Ethiopia, and no one’s stopping them from coming back.

Then there’s this Ha’aretz story by Nir Hasson that inaccurately calls the Gondar aid compounds "transit camps," mistakenly says the Falash Mura predicament began after Operation Moses (1984-’85) when in fact it came to light at the close of Operation Solomon (1991), wrongly says Israel stopped Falash Mura immigration in 2005 (it actually ended in August 2008) and confuses the matter when he suggests that the criteria for immigration changed after 2005 to humanitarian cases and family reunification (those were the grounds before 2005, too).

The question now, as always with the Falash Mura, is how many are there?

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