The first group of Ethiopian Jews to move to Israel after waiting for three years will arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport on Sunday evening, almost a year after the government approved the immigration of 9,000 Jews still left in Ethiopia.
The 78 immigrants who will be on the flight were first approved by the Interior Ministry in 2013 but never came due to lack of budget for their absorption, which includes housing allowances for at least two years and apartment grants.
“The tickets are bought, the absorption centers are ready, and we’re going to welcome them with open arms on Sunday,” said Nimrod Sabbah, a spokesman for Likud MK David Amsalem.
“The people waiting for them at the airport, you’ll see, are soldiers and people who have served Israel, they have been waiting for years and years for their families,” he said. “It pains me to say this, but if they were blond with blue eyes they would have been here ages ago. But they’re black, and the government of Israel is behaving with deep racism towards them.”
The move comes as Ethiopia is dealing with widespread violent anti-government protests, the most significant civil unrest in decades, centered in the Oromo and Amhara regions. Gondar, which is home to approximately 6,000 of the 9,000 Jews still left in Ethiopia, is located in the Amhara region.
According to Amnesty International, at least 100 people have been killed in protests this summer, and Ethiopian authorities have arrested human rights activists and journalists, both local and international. The government has shut down internet access for all or part of the country in an effort to hinder protest organizers ability to amass large crowds.
Times of Israel blogger Micha Oddenheimer witnessed some of the protests first-hand while in Ethiopia in August.
Sabbah said that the unstable political situation complicated the logistics for bringing the new immigrants. Originally, the first group was supposed to arrive in late August or early September.
One person approved to come to Israel on Sunday’s flight confirmed via phone that a group was awaiting flights in Addis Ababa but declined to speak to The Times of Israel due to fears over his personal security.
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem will pay for the first group of flights for Ethiopian Jews. Last month, the ICEJ contributed $500,000 to the Jewish Agency via Keren Hayesod to cover the flights of the first wave of 523 Ethiopian Jews, as well as to sponsor flights for another 104 Jewish immigrants coming soon from France and the Ukraine, according to ICEJ spokesman David Parsons. Parsons added that the ICEJ is also fundraising to assist with absorption costs for Ethiopian Jews.
In the 2017-2018 budget, the Finance Ministry allocated a budget that would enable 1,300 Ethiopians to move to Israel, to be divided among a number of entities, including the Interior Ministry, the Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency, among others, according to Sabbah.
Last November, the government approved the absorption of the 9,000 Ethiopian immigrants, but the plan faltered because there was no budget allocated for it.
Two Likud MKs, Amsalem and Avraham Neguise, refused to vote with the coalition until the government funded the decision to bring the Ethiopian Jews to Israel, which it finally did in April. But the process has been stalled, and no plans had been made to resume the aliyah. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to meet members of the Jewish community while on a state visit to Ethiopia in July.
Ethiopian immigrants are expected to arrive in Israel at the rate of about 100 per month starting in November.