Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ethiopian-Israeli MK calls for end of immigration of non-Jewish Ethiopians

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent

Shas MK Mazor Bahyna has claimed that over 300,000 people remain in Ethiopia who are eligible to immigrate to Israel due to the forced conversion of Ethiopian Jews in the past.

"We have historical evidence and letters of Kessim [Ethiopian Jewish religious leaders] on the fact that forty years ago, there were more than 50,000 converts who were forced to change their religion," said Bahyna, an Ethiopian Israeli himself.

Another MK of Ethiopian origin, however, has called for an end to immigration of the Falashmura, the descendents of Jews who converted to Christianity in the past.

Ethiopian-born MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) said this should occur in accordance with a 2005 government decision which ruled that the last of the community would come to Israel in the coming weeks.

"Because of mistakes made in the Interior Ministry, there are still 5,000 people in Ethiopia whose eligibility need to be checked - but after this, we need to finish the issue," Molla said.

The dispute between the two lawmakers reflects deep divisions of opinion within the Ethiopian Israeli community as a whole. While some call for the bringing to Israel of anyone who declares a connection to the Jewish people, others say that many of those in Ethiopia seeking to immigrate are simply lying about their origins.

"This is a political decision that the government needs to make. If we continue to drag our feet on the issue, the breach will be grow and limitless numbers of Ethiopians without any connection to the Jewish people will be able to come here," Molla added.

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