Sharansky: Ethiopians need help

Sharansky added that he does not intend to announce a mass immigration of the Falash Mura without a careful review of applicants' eligibility to immigrate under the Law of Return, in which any person with one Jewish parent or grandparent can make aliyah, or under the Law of Entry, which provides for family reunification.

Sharansky visited compounds in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa and in the northern city of Gondar, where thousands of Ethiopians who have left their homes hoping to move to Israel live in crowded camps. Some of them have waited for years to receive answers to their immigration requests.

At the Addis Ababa compound Monday, Ethiopians sang Israel's national anthem and baked matzot to show Sharansky what they had learned about Judaism since leaving their villages.

The North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry runs the camps. Groups such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee provide humantarian aid.

Unlike the 14,000 Ethiopian Jews who were brought to Israel in the early 1990s, there is a lack of consensus about the status of the Falash Mura.

Proving the Jewish lineage of Falash Mura is a difficult task and one of the reasons the process has been drawn out.

In Jerusalem, Ethiopian activists cautiously welcomed Sharansky's trip.

"This is the first time that a minister goes there and visits the people," said Yafet Alemu of the Southwing to Zion group. "Up until now, he did nothing on the issue of this problem, even though we tried to explain the situation to him. Now, after he goes and sees the people, and prayed with them, I hope he hears them."