A sometime correspondent wrote last night to make sure I saw this piece written by Danny Adino Ababa, an Ethiopian Jewish journalist living in Israel. Ababa argues the Falsh Mura are not Jews:
…It would be a crude lie to claim that the Ethiopians who currently wait at transit camps are Jewish. Chief Rabbi Amar’s ruling that those are kosher Jews is unconvincing. Suddenly, the chief rabbis have become experts on Ethiopian Jewry? In the eyes of the Ashkenazi rabbinical establishment I am not even a true Jew yet, and I cannot even get married here.
We cannot claim that someone who was completely Christian for 600 years is suddenly a Jew. Many Ethiopian Jews know this is a lie, but bringing them to Israel is perceived as a way of boosting and strengthening the Ethiopian community.…
Of course, the Falash Mura are Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors were forced to convert to Christianity about 100 years ago. Ababa is, at the very least, guilty of overstatement – or is he?
Anshel Pfeffer has a report in today's Ha'aretz on the government's decision to stop Falash Mura aliya:
The Interior Ministry will close down its operation in Ethiopia in another two weeks, after signing the last aliyah permit for Falash Mura who are eligible to immigrate to Israel.
According to the ministry, some 1,500 eligible Falash Mura are still in Ethiopia, and all are expected to arrive here by next June. But Ethiopian immigrant associations claim that there are at least 8,500 others who are eligible to immigrate under the government's criteria.
The Falash Mura are Ethiopians of Jewish descent whose ancestors converted to Christianity. They are not Jewish according to Jewish law, but in 1999, under pressure from local Ethiopian immigrant groups and American Jewish organizations, the government agreed to bring them to Israel. They are currently arriving at a rate of about 300 per month.
In late 2006, however, the government decided to bring the remaining Falash Mura here and wind up its operation in Ethiopia within a year.
According to the government's immigration criteria, which are based on a halakhic ruling by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, a Falash Mura must be able to prove their maternal ancestral line is Jewish for seven generations back, have a first-degree relative who is already in Israel and promise to undergo a pro forma conversion upon arrival. Over the last year, the Interior Ministry has refused immigration permits to some 3,000 applicants.…
Pfeffer goes on to report allegations of bribery by Falash Mura who pay Falsh Mura currently in Israel to claim them as "first-degree relatives," and other shenanigans. And he repeats the claim that American groups are blind to this deception and insinuates American groups have caused this crisis.
What neither Pfeffer or Ababa do is explain the history of the rescue of Ethiopian Jews. If they did this, those American groups pushing for aliya of Falash Mura would look a whole lot better.
Why? Because the Israeli government and Jewish Agency have a long, dirty track record of lies. They scuttled rescue operations and killed Jews – and I do not write these words lightly.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, commonly known as the Joint, raised money in 1982 for ambulances to help Ethiopian Jews. When I saw that claim, made as part of a national Federation fundraising brochure, I challenged my local Federation to prove it, pointing out that Ethiopian Jews lived primarily in villages and that Ethiopia did not have a modern road system. The ambulances pictured could never have made it to or from those villages.
To its credit, the local Federation checked, and found that I was correct. The Joint admitted the ambulances were based in Addis Ababa and served Christians who lived in the capitol as part of the Joint's nonsectarian program in Ethiopia. The local Federation pulled that national brochure and issued an apology. The Council of Jewish Federations and the Joint itself continued to raise money under false pretenses. And neither group funded relief or rescue in any serious way.
But the Federations eventually learned. After years of swallowing Israeli lies whole, and after their Israeli ordered fundraising during Operation Moses was leaked to the media by the Israeli government and by Federation leaders, resulting in the end of the rescue and the deaths of thousands of Ethiopian Jews, a new generation of leaders took power. These younger leaders, more experienced, with greater confidence and not in the thrall of Israeli politicians, called Israel on its lies and forced change.
The only American Jewish organization today that completely supports the Israeli government's restrictive position on Falash Mura aliya is the Joint. The Joint to this day has never admitted the wrongs it did in the early 1980s.
That said, it seems there are very real abuses of the aliya process. My correspondent was in Addis Ababa a few months ago and saw many
Falash Mura Ethiopians whose leaders claim to be Jews but many community members were wearing crosses, allegedly because of persecution from non-Jews. These people claim to be, in effect, marranos. This new group's link to Ethiopian Jews is in fact much more distant than the Falash Mura that Israel's Sefardic chief rabbi Shlomo Amar considers Jews. This new group has the following philosophy: Jewish Identity. Parnassah. Aliya. In other words, first be Jewish. Then earn money and support one's self. Only then make aliya.
Rabbi Amar has not yet ruled on this new group and NACOEJ, the American organization that runs programs and sometimes transit camps for Falash Mura in Addis and Gondar has not publicly dealt with this issue.
The bottom line is that Israeli lies and malfeasance stretching back at least thirty years makes it very difficult for American Jewish groups to trust Israeli assertions about the Falash Mura. So too racisit and bigoted statements from Israeli leaders, like the current Interior minister, and the ongoing problems of discrimination faced by Ethiopian Jews in Israel at the hands of politicians, employers, educators and rabbis alike.
Israel's racism and lies created this problem. The Falash Mura and their pretenders are simply exploiting what these others have sown.