Israel to approve immigration for 1,000 ‎Ethiopian Jews

Members of Ethiopia’s Jewish community hold photos of relatives in Israel during a solidarity event in Addis Ababa, Feb. 28, 2018

The Israeli government announced Monday that it ‎plans to absorb 1,000 Ethiopian Jews, accepting ‎just a fraction of the African country’s 8,000 ‎remaining Jews who want to move to Israel.‎

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the ‎Ministerial Committee on the Advancement and ‎Integration of Israeli Citizens of Ethiopian Origin ‎had agreed to allow community members who already ‎have children in Israel to immigrate. ‎

It was not clear what the government plans to do ‎with respect to the remaining 7,000 people.‎

‎”This is the 11th meeting of this ministerial ‎committee. At the previous meeting I promised to ‎submit a recommendation regarding the Falash Mura ‎and after consulting with MKs [David] Amsalem and ‎‎[Avraham] Neguise, I am pleased to inform you that I ‎have decided that approximately 1,000 community ‎members – whose children are already here – must be ‎brought to Israel,” Netanyahu told committee ‎members. ‎

‎”This is not a simple decision due to other ‎ramifications that we have regarding members of the ‎Ethiopian community; however, I am determined to do ‎this and I add that this is in wake of 1,300 Falash ‎Mura who have already come to Israel.” ‎

The prime minister said the move reflects “the ‎importance with which we have been handling this ‎precious community, which is part of our people and ‎part of our state.”‎

Neguise, a Likud lawmaker and ‎member of the special ‎committee, said that while he ‎welcomes the ‎government’s decision, he was ‎disappointed that this ‎issue has yet to be resolved.‎

‎”We won’t cease in our mission, our struggle until ‎‎everyone is reunited with their family here in ‎‎Israel,” he said.‎

Neguise said the committee did not discuss plans for ‎‎the remaining 7,000 Ethiopian Jews in Monday’s ‎‎meeting.‎

Alisa Bodner, a spokeswoman for Struggle for ‎Ethiopian Aliyah, a group petitioning the government ‎to allow Ethiopian Jews to immigrate, called ‎Netanyahu’s decision an “incredible disappointment” ‎and “another spit in the face” for Israel’s ‎Ethiopian community. ‎

The group called on Netanyahu to provide a path to ‎citizenship for the remaining 7,000 members of the ‎Jewish Ethiopian community without delay.‎

Many of the 8,000 are practicing Jews and have ‎relatives in Israel, but Israel does not consider ‎them Jewish under strict religious law, meaning ‎their immigration requires special approval. ‎

The 8,000 are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were ‎forcibly converted to Christianity around a century ‎ago, and the Israeli government views bringing them ‎to Israel as family reunification rather than ‎‎”aliya,” or Jewish immigration.‎

Israel agreed in 2015 to bring the remaining ‎Ethiopians to Israel, but has not authorized funding ‎for their move. The families allege discrimination.‎

Israel is home to approximately 144,000 Jews of ‎Ethiopian descent, the majority of whom immigrated ‎to Israel in the 1980s and 1990s. Last year Israel ‎approved immigration for 1,300 Ethiopians with ‎relatives who had already immigrated.‎

But their assimilation into Israeli society has not ‎been smooth, with many arriving without a formal ‎education and then falling into unemployment and ‎poverty. Ethiopian Jews have also protested in ‎recent years against perceived discrimination in ‎Israeli society.