The state of Israel has welcomed the arrival of hundreds of black Africans from Ethiopia, while concurrently planning to deport thousands of other black Africans back to their native countries. About 450 people from Ethiopia's Falash Mura Jewish community landed at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport on Wednesday after decades of campaigning to repatriate to the Jewish state, following endorsement of the scheme by the Israeli government. Sofa Landver, Israel’s minister of Absorption, said she was “proud to take part in this historic event,” according to local media.
The latest batch of migrants had been living in camps in northern Ethiopia under poor conditions before flying to Israel. A total of 8,000 such Ethiopian Jews have now been repatriated to Israel under a scheme called “Operation Dove's Wings,” which was temporarily halted in 2010. Since the 1948 founding of the Jewish state, a total of 90,000 Ethiopian Jews have moved to Israel.
However, the plight of the Falash Mura has been controversial. Some Israelis do not accept them as Jews, while others criticized the government for not moving quicker to bring them to Israel. Indeed, another 12,000 Falash Mura community members remain in Ethiopia, denied permission to move to Israel, according to the Times of Israel.
Meanwhile, as one group of blacks arrive in Israel, another much larger group of Africans face imminent deportation. Reuters reported that some 50,000 illegal African immigrants, primarily of Eritrean and Sudanese descent, will be expelled to Africa -- but first through Uganda, one of the few African states that Israel has good relations with. Some of these migrants – whom Israel regards as economic refugees, not people fleeing persecution -- have been in the country since at least 2006, having crossed the Sinai desert from Egypt.
Israel’s interior minister, Gideon Sa'ar, even described the migrants as “infiltrators,” a word that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also repeatedly employed. "In the first stage [of the expulsions], we will focus on raising awareness within the population of infiltrators while helping them with the logistics of their departure, including costs, airfare and dealing with the possessions they accumulated while they were in Israel," Sa'ar said. At some point, Sa’ar warned, the government will take more forceful action on removing workers employed illegally in Israel by, among other things, canceling all visas and commencing mass expulsions.
In 2012, Israel passed a law calling for undocumented aliens to be jailed for up to three years (if they refused to leave the country on their own). An estimated 2,000 such Africans are currently held in detention centers, Reuters noted. Other Africans have been offered cash to exit Israel, which some have accepted.
However, there are questions over why Uganda would agree to serve as a transit point for the deportation of these migrants. Haaretz, a left-wing Israeli newspaper, reported that Michal Rozin, a member of the Knesset and chairwoman of a parliamentary committee on foreign workers, suggested that Israel may be sending arms and cash to Uganda in exchange for their acquiescence in this deal. As such, Rozin is urging the government to reveal details of the deportation scheme, adding that once the migrants return to their native lands, their lives may be at risk.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.