Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that there is a chance of forming a narrow right-wing government after the election — i.e., one that would depend on at least 61 mandates — and he is thus chasing after every possible vote. As part of this sprint for votes, Netanyahu pushed Feb. 9 for a government decision on bringing to Israel 400 new immigrants from Ethiopia who have first-degree relations in Israel. He is doing so while ignoring strong opposition from many elements within the Ethiopian community in Israel who claim that those potential immigrants are not Jewish and not interested in being Jewish, but are using an opportunity to leave Ethiopia, whose economic situation is dire. Some have even told Al-Monitor that bringing in these Christian Ethiopians will hurt the Likud party and decrease support for it among Jewish Israeli Ethiopians.
Netanyahu promoted this decision even against the opposition of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the legal adviser to the prime minister’s office, Shlomit Barnea Farago, who both believe that there is a legal impediment to approving this decision. An opinion presented to the ministers before the Feb. 9 debate argued that the decision would constitute a benefit to a voting public that could be seen as motivated by political considerations. The opinion sharply criticizes the lack of comprehensive groundwork and verified data on the number of people at transit camps in Ethiopia who seek to emigrate to Israel. It further stated that “no reason has been given that points to concrete urgency to make the decision less than a month before the election date. Likewise, this does not relate to continuity in implementing government policy but rather to a change in policy. There is concern that making this decision will restrict the judgement of a new government. Therefore, there is concern that accepting the suggestion at this time would constitute a benefit to a certain electoral sector, which could be seen as motivated by election campaign considerations.”