Following the formation of the government last month, the country finally got a new, permanent aliyah and integration minister, MK Pnina Tamano-Shata of Blue and White, who at the age of 39 became the first Ethiopian-Israeli minister born in Ethiopia.
Tamano-Shata comes into office at a strange time for an immigration minister. On the one hand, interest in aliyah has risen dramatically in several parts of the world because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects it has had on several big Jewish communities.
The minister says that she is therefore “fighting with the Finance Ministry” for a special budget for assisting new immigrants in gaining employment, which would be used to encourage employers to take on new immigrants by subsidizing part of their salaries.
Additionally, the new funds would be used to increase professional and vocational training for new immigrants in various fields.
“It doesn’t take a lot of money to help new immigrants, to show them we are a warm home for them, because they are not our guests, this is their home,” she avers. “We are the generation that merited to be the one that returned to Zion, and we need to encourage aliyah because this is the home of all Jews.”
Turning to the ongoing failure to bring the approximately 7,500 members of the Falash Mura community, as resolved by government resolution 716 in 2015, Tamano-Shata says that she is drawing up a comprehensive plan to bring an end to the interminable saga.
The Falash Mura community was originally part of the larger Beta Israel Jewish community in Ethiopia but converted to Christianity in the late 19th century.
After the mass aliyah of the Beta Israel community, Israel subsequently brought the majority of the Falash Mura community to Israel as well, although some 12,000 to 14,000 people now remain in the camps in Addis Ababa and Gondar, where they gathered.
Approximately 9,000 were given the right to come to Israel under family reunification principles, since the Falash Mura do not have the right to citizenship under the Law of Return, since their ancestors converted away from Judaism.
Due to the different terms of criteria used by the state to bring the Falash Mura to Israel, families were often divided, whereby some parents were allowed to come to Israel while their adult children were not, siblings were left behind, or children were brought without their parents.
Despite the government decision of 2015 which was supposed to bring to Israel 9,000 of the community by 2020, 7,000-7,500 still remain.
Tamano-Shata says that she recently met with Interior Minister Arye Deri, who has ultimate authority over the immigration of the Falash Mura, to discuss the issue, and says that he is empathetic with the plight of the community.
“We need to bring the rest of the 7,000 people waiting there immediately,” says the minister, reasserting her comments from last week that it is “not Jewish to divide families.”
And she says a public committee should be established to review the claims of the remainder of camp residents, with the participation of the kessim, the religious leaders of the Ethiopian Jewish community, who are experts in its genealogy.
Those who are not accepted need to be given “a final answer” and, with the help of the Ethiopian government, given adequate residency provisions in their cities, something they are currently denied. Crucially, she says, the camps have to be closed down, as part of her comprehensive plan, since, she asserts, “the camps will otherwise continue to grow.”
Tamano-Shata is, however, cautious about discussing the precise details of how the aliyah of those approved will be budgeted and what kind of timetable there will be.
She says, hesitantly, that she hopes those remaining in Ethiopia could be brought here “from within 18 months to two years,” and that the budget for it could be either in the coming state budget or separately.
The plan, which the minister hopes to submit to the government by the end of the year, will, however, require approval by the cabinet despite the 2015 cabinet resolution.