Israel has ended a three-decade-old policy of immigration from Ethiopia, saying it wants to devote resources instead to integrating Ethiopian Jews already in the country.
The move evoked a furious reaction from leaders of the 120,000-strong Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel, who said the “discrimination” and “prejudice” of the Israeli government would strand thousands of people in Africa and thwart family reunifications.
Government spokesman Mark Regev said the step “will enable us to focus more effectively and invest resources on the successful integration of Ethiopian immigrants”.
He added that the government was abiding by a cabinet decision in 2003 to bring to Israel a total of 17,000 Ethiopians, known as falash mura, who are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity but who consider themselves Jewish.
In accordance with the quota, the falash mura have been flown to Israel at a rate of about three hundred a month since 2003, with the last group of 61 of them arriving yesterday.
Israel mounted major operations—codenamed Moses and Solomon—to bring thousands of Ethiopian Jews to the country in 1984 and 1991, depicting the immigration as fulfilment of the biblical prophecy of a gathering of Jewish exiles to Zion.
But the Ethiopian community of about 120,000 immigrants and their descendants is the poorest sector of the Israeli Jewish population and is beset by unemployment and school drop-out rates, although there have also been success stories.
In an affirmative action to make up for their impoverished background the government has underwritten their mortgages.
Ethiopian Jewish groups in Israel say there are still about 8,000 falash mura in Gondar, Ethiopia, seeking to move to Israel.
“It is inconceivable that the descendants of Jews and Jews, who need to emigrate, should have the door shut on them,” said Danny Kasahon, director of a coalition of Ethiopian lobbying groups. “There are many families here who have parents or children in Ethiopia waiting to come to Israel.”
“This is discrimination. It cannot be defined by any other word. It could be based on prejudice,” Mr. Kasahon added.
Mr Regev denied the charge and said there could still be family reunifications “on a case by case basis”, but added that “collective mass immigration is behind us.”