Some 500 Ethiopian-Israelis demonstrated outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on Sunday and demanded that the government approve the aliyah of 8,700 members of the Falashmura denomination.
Thousands of Falashmura currently residing in the Gondar transit camp in Ethiopia are still awaiting permits to immigrate to Israel, this after the State promised last year to allow 3,000 immigrants into the Jewish state by September 2009.
Protesters chanted, "End the discrimination" and "Bring mother and father to Israel now". They also waved signs reading, "Discontinuing aliyah – a crime against Zionism".
Sahi Malato, an 18-year-old soldier, made aliyah along with her parents and two sisters five years ago. "I am a proud soldier who loves the country, and I hope the State will give something back to me and bring my three brothers, whom I haven't seen in years, to Israel so we can all live happily here," she told Ynet while holding a photo of her family.
Nibrak Amasgan, another protester, hasn't seen her parents and brothers in 10 years. "My father is old; he cries whenever I call him and we miss each other. I ask that the prime minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) allow him to make aliyah," she said.
'End discrimination.' Jerusalem rally (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
During the rally, Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) said, "I am determined to lead the struggle and conclude the deliberations by the relevant government offices. We'll have to convince the Treasury, which opposed the (Falashmura aliyah) in the past."
Knesset Member Shlomo Molla (Kadima), an Ethiopian-Israeli, told those on hand that "this would not happen to olim from other countries. We'll continue with our struggle until the last of the Jews arrives in Israel."
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said the debate was not a budgetary one. "I don’t think the dispute surrounding the Falashmura aliyah has anything to do with their skin color; it is about the uncertainty as to whether some of them are in fact Jews."
Earlier Sunday, Minister Yishai told the weekly cabinet meeting, "We must not leave the Falashmura there (in Ethiopia). I hear claims that had their skin color been different – they would have been treated differently."
However, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov (Yisrael Beitenu) said he feared some Falashmura were trying to take advantage of the right of return to Israel despite not being eligible to make aliyah.
"As soon as the (transit camp) is vacated, (more Falashmura) arrive there. This issue must be examined thoroughly," he said.
During the cabinet meeting Minister Misezhnikov also reiterated his call to cancel the visa requirement for Ukrainian tourists, a move he claimed was vital for the troubled tourism industry. He demanded that the issue be addressed during the next cabinet meeting.
Minister Yishai is vehemently opposed to the move. "Ukraine is the hub of prostitution and human trafficking," he said recently.
Roni Sofer contributed to the report