Israel allows 3,000 Ethiopian Jews to immigrate
Jerusalem (AFP) – The Israeli government on Sunday approved the immigration of several thousand Jews from war-torn Ethiopia, some of whom have waited decades to join their relatives in Israel.
The decision took a step toward resolving an issue that has long complicated the government’s relations with the country’s Ethiopian community.
About 140,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel. Community leaders estimate that approximately 6,000 people remain underdeveloped in Ethiopia.
Although the families are of Jewish ancestry and many of them practice Jewish rites, Israel does not consider them to be Jews under religious law. Instead, they were fighting to enter the country under a family reunification program that required special government approval.
Community activists have accused the government of failing to implement a 2015 decision to bring all remaining Ethiopians of Jewish descent to Israel within five years.
Under Sunday’s decision, an estimated 3,000 people will be eligible to move to Israel. Among them are fathers, sons, and relatives who are already in Israel, as well as orphans whose parents were in Israel when they died.
“Today we are correcting the persistent injustice,” said Benina Tamano Shata, the country’s Minister of Immigration and herself an Ethiopian immigrant. She said the program was a response to people who had waited “many years to come to Israel with their families” and resolve a “painful issue.”
In a joint statement with the Israeli interior minister, she said the decision came in part as a response to the precarious security situation in Ethiopia, where tens of thousands of people have been killed over the past year in fighting between the government and Tigray forces.
It was not immediately clear when the airlift would start. The government appointed a special project coordinator to oversee the effort.
Kasaw Shiferu, head of the activist group for Ethiopian Jewish immigration, welcomed Sunday’s decision, but said there was still a long way to go.
“On the one hand, this decision makes me happy. Three thousand people realize a dream and unite with their families.”
But it is not a final solution. Thousands are still waiting in the camps, some for more than 25 years. We expect the government to bring them all.