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80 Ethiopian Jews Arrested at Protest in Addis Ababa

80 Ethiopian Jews arrested during a demonstration near the Israeli Embassy in Addis Ababa, where they demanded Israeli citizenship.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 3/31/2011, 2:27 AM / Last Update: 3/31/2011, 2:18 AM

Flash 90

At least 80 Ethiopian Jews were arrested on Wednesday and 80 others were injured during a demonstration near the Israeli Embassy in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Hamse Sutotow, chairman of the Beta Israel Association which is working towards bring the Falash Mura Jews to Israel, told the Associated Press that 2,000 Ethiopian Jews had gathered at the Israeli Embassy and demanded the right to Israeli citizenship.

Witnesses said police suddenly arrived on the scene and began attacking the demonstrators with clubs, forcing the crowd to disperse.

Sutotow said he believes the police action was ordered directly or indirectly by the Israeli Embassy, but local police said they halted the protest because the demonstrators did not have a permit to hold a protest.

IDF Radio quoted Israel’s Foreign Ministry as saying in response that it had nothing to do with the dispersing of the protest and that if such a protest indeed occurred, it had nothing to do with the Foreign Ministry.

Israel has absorbed many Ethiopian Jews in the 1980s and 1990s. Immigration from Ethiopia resumed in January after a brief delay due to chicken pox at the Gondar transition camp. More than 330 new immigrants arrived on two flights during this time period.

The immigration wave was made possible after the Israeli government made a decision to bring the last members of the Falash Mura to Israel and end the mass aliyah from Ethiopia. An estimated 8,000 Falash Mura members are eligible for aliyah.

The Falash Mura are the descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity over a hundred years ago for economic reasons, as the discrimination against Jews prevented them from earning a livelihood.

The Jewish Agency has been given the sole responsibility for bringing the remaining Falash Mura to Israel within the next three years and for operating the transition camp in Gondar. The Agency has said it will boost programs at the camp to teach Judaism, Hebrew, and other subjects aimed at easing the potential immigrants' absorption into Israeli society.

The Knesset has just approved a law requiring government agencies and private companies to guarantee a “reasonable amount” of job openings for Ethiopians. The new law is aimed at helping Ethiopian immigrants find work in areas where doors have been closed to them despite many instances where they have academic and professional qualifications.

An existing law already requires quality in hiring in the civil service, but the new law covers all national and local government agencies.

Ethiopian Israelis are known for their high rates of enlistment in the IDF and the Israeli military recently instituted an outreach course for Ethiopians.