Shalom in Ethiopia: Falash Mura Should be Brought to Israel

By Reuters and Haaretz Service

Israel’s Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said last week during a state visit to Ethiopia said that the government’s decision to bring the Falash Mura to Israel from Ethiopia must be implemented.

Shalom, during a state visit to Ethiopia, added, however, that one could not ignore the fact that their immigration would be "complicated and complex, with economic ramifications for which the finance minister will have to find a response."

As revealed by Haaretz, the cost of bringing over the Falash Mura is far less than estimated by immigration and Finance Ministry officials. Shalom on Wednesday visited villages in the Gondar area where many Falash Mura live. He met with Ethiopian government officials on Thursday.

The Falash Mura, many of whom were forced to convert to Christianity in the 19th century, now wish to reassert their Jewishness and emigrate to Israel.

Making the first visit by an Israeli foreign minister to sub-Saharan Africa in 13 years, Shalom arrived last Tuesday evening and was expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin.

The three-day visit was not announced in Ethiopia, but in Jerusalem a foreign ministry official said a large part of the trip would involve discussions over the possible immigration to Israel of members of the Falash Mura.

"It is an important element in strengthening relations with Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular," the official said of the visit.

About 80,000 Ethiopian Jews already live in Israel, many of them taken there in massive airlifts during times of crisis in Ethiopia over the past 20 years.

The last mass migration of Ethiopian Jews was in 1991, when Israel organised an airlift of 15,000 people who had fled fighting at the end of Ethiopia’s civil war.

Most of the Falash Mura who were unable to prove their Jewish roots have not been allowed to emigrate to Israel, even though many have family ties to the Ethiopian Jews who have left for the Jewish state in earlier emigrations.

In February 2003 Ethiopia blocked a plan by Israel to move about 20,000 Falash Mura to Israel, arguing that a mass migration was unnecessary when everyone was free to leave Ethiopia in the normal way.

Where once Israel maintained ambassadors in most of 39 sub-Saharan states it now has embassies in nine countries only: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Senegal, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Angola.