Despite promises, Ethiopian immigration still stalled as Israelis pass the buck

Atenkut Setataw (right), with his wife Alesa Netere (left) and a neighbor outside of their home in Gondar, which Setataw painted. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In October 2016, 63 Ethiopian immigrants touched down at Ben Gurion Airport to the joy and tears of eagerly waiting family members. They were the first Ethiopian Jews to make it to Israel since the government announced an “end” of immigration from Ethiopia over three years earlier, a move that angered Ethiopian Israelis who still had family in Gondar and Addis Ababa.

Amid speeches and flag-waving at Ben Gurion, leaders from the Jewish Agency’s Natan Sharansky to Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver applauded the beginning of a new era, which would bring approximately 1,300 Ethiopian Jews to Israel each year, until the 9,000 Jews still living in Ethiopia all arrive in the Jewish state. But now, eight months after that government decision, the several dozen people who arrived on that October flight remain the only Jews to leave Ethiopia.

Despite a high-profile campaign and a much-celebrated agreement, not one member of the Ethiopian Jewish community has had an immigration request processed by the Interior Ministry to date, let alone been granted permission to come to Israel.

October’s immigrants were approved by the Interior Ministry before the moratorium and prevented from coming immediately because there was no budgetary allocation for their absorption. But government promises have not been kept and their arrival has not yet been followed by mass immigration from Ethiopian.

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