Two US congressmen have written to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urging him to increase the rate of absorption of Ethiopians and criticizing the government for bringing only 300 each month.
Despite Sharon's assurances in the summer of 2003 that the immigration was being accelerated, the letter said, "We have been distressed, however, to learn that the pace of immigration from Ethiopia has averaged only 300 each month in spite of the dire poverty faced by the Ethiopian Jewish community."
The letter was sent on December 17 by New York Democrats Jerrold Nadler and Charles Rangel.
Between 15,000 and 25,000 Falush Mura – descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity and have since returned to practicing Judaism, and are Jewish according to Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar – are currently seeking to come to Israel. Each month 300 come under the Law of Entry, rather than the Law of Return, despite a government decision in February 2003 to bring them all quickly.
Once Avraham Poraz assumed control of the Interior Ministry, he cited budget difficulties in speeding up the pace of immigration. Poraz has since left his post, and the ministry is currently under the control of the Prime Minister's Office, which declined to respond to the letter.
In their letter, Nadler and Rangel mention their interest in discussing "how we might be of additional help in completing the ingathering of the Ethiopian Jewish community to our great ally, Israel."
Though the document doesn't specify the type of assistance possible, Nadler told The Jerusalem Post, "If Israel asks for additional funds for the absorption of refugees, we would certainly work to secure those funds, and there's a good chance Congress would provide them."
In fact, in a letter to Sharon and Poraz written in 2003, the two questioned why Israel was requesting less American aid for absorbing refugees – $50 million in 2004, down from $60m. the year before.
"It has come to our understanding that you are concerned about a lack of funds to handle the cost of implementing the [February 2003] decision. We are therefore puzzled to hear that Israel might be seeking fewer funds from Congress," they wrote.
Michael Janklowitz, a Jewish Agency spokesman, confirmed that US funding for resettling refugees fell from $60m. to its current level of $50m., but said that the allocation is the result of formula by the American government set on a per-capita basis. Since fewer people immigrated from the former Soviet Union, the amount of aid correspondingly dropped.
He added that American Jewish communities have offered to provide funding for additional absorption of Ethiopians, and that the congressmen's letters are merely the result of lobbying by the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry.
Janklowitz also noted that at the end of November Jewish Agency chairman Sallai Meridor called on the government for the first time to increase the rate of absorption of Falash Mura.
At that time, Meridor declared, "The economic arguments for the restrictions are baseless; quickening the pace of immigration would not raise costs... It is not right to hamper the pace of immigration from any country in the world; this is the only case of this happening in the history of the State of Israel. On the personal level, this is causing unnecessary suffering among those whose immigration has been approved." Meridor spoke ahead of a hearing in an ongoing High Court case seeking to force the government to implement its February 2003 decision.
MK Michael Melchior has also promised to submit a High Court petition pushing for their increased absorption.
And earlier this month, 61 MKs also signed a petition calling for the government to remove the 300-person cap and at least double the number of monthly arrivals.
In their letter, the congressmen backed this petition, and closed by referring to a letter sent in April 2003 signed by more than 40 congressmen urging Israel to "bring this ancient community to Israel as quickly as possible."
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