Mon | Feb 18, 2019

Ethiopian immigrants call for family unifications

Published:Tuesday | March 13, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Ethiopian Israelis hold pictures of relatives as they protest in front of the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem yesterday.


Hundreds of Ethiopian immigrants demonstrated outside Israel's parliament yesterday, demanding the government fulfill a pledge to bring some 8,000 of their countrymen remaining in Ethiopia to Israel.

Israel's government agreed in 2015 to bring the remaining Ethiopians to Israel, but it has not authorized funding for their move.

Most of the stranded Ethiopians have close relatives in Israel. Although the families have Jewish roots, Israel doesn't consider them Jewish, meaning they need government approval to immigrate.

"I have two sisters in Ethiopia still waiting for 13 years ... [Our] mother is crying day and night, let's stop this pain," Sefi Bililin said at the protest yesterday.

Her family is one of hundreds that have been split between Israel and Ethiopia over what they say is an inconsistent immigration policy. Many accuse the state of discriminating against the Ethiopian minority and fear the 2019 budget will fall short.

Alisa Bodner, spokeswoman for the protesters, said Tuesday that the families have had enough and feel "their lives are worth just as much as any other lives here in Israel."

Israel clandestinely airlifted thousands of Ethiopian Jews from the country in the 1980s and 1990s, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to bring the ancient community to the Jewish state and help them integrate.

About 140,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today, a small minority in a country of over 8 million. But their assimilation hasn't been smooth, with many arriving without a modern education and then falling into unemployment and poverty.