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340 Ethiopian immigrants to arrive next week as part of renewed operation

Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata vows ‘I will not leave anyone behind,’ as 3,000 Ethiopian Jews await immigration flights

Ethiopian immigrants arrive in Israel, on March 11, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Ethiopian immigrants arrive in Israel, on March 11, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Two flights carrying 340 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants will land in Israel next week as part of a renewed effort to bring remaining community members to Israel, the Aliyah and Absorption Ministry announced on Thursday.

The operation, which aims to bring to Israel 3,000 Ethiopians who have been waiting for years at transit camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa, will resume following a year-long break and extended struggle by Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata.

A delegation led by Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization and de facto head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, will leave for Ethiopia on Tuesday.

The first flight, carrying 180 immigrants, will arrive on Wednesday, followed by an additional flight carrying 160 which is set to land on Thursday.

The current operation began in September 2020, and halted in March 2021. In 2021, 1,636 Ethiopian Jews immigrated to Israel. Last November, the government promised to renew the airlifts.

Tamano-Shata, the first Ethiopian-born woman to serve in the Knesset, hailed the resumption of flights as a victory, after struggling with the government for a renewed budget for the operation.

In March, a final obstacle was overcome, after the High Court of Justice rejected a petition by the right-wing Israeli Immigration Policy Center to block the arrivals.

Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata attends a press conference at the ministry’s office at Ben Gurion Airport on April 4, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“This is a continuation of the campaign to correct the injustice done to many Ethiopian Jewish families, and as I promised, I will not leave anyone behind,” Tamano-Shata said on Thursday.

Hagoel said thousands of immigrants will be “privileged to realize their dreams” and reunite with their relatives in Israel, due to the resumption of the operation.

Five absorption centers have been established in preparation for the arrivals, in order to assist the new immigrants through the absorption process, including helping them learn Hebrew.

Over the decades, the government has launched several operations to bring Ethiopian Jews to the country. In 1991, Operation Solomon brought over 14,300 immigrants from Ethiopia on 35 flights in 36 hours, the largest such operation to date. Approximately 95,000 Ethiopians have been assisted by the Jewish Agency to immigrate to Israel.

However, the efforts have been beset by controversy over who is eligible.

While Ethiopian Jewish immigrants from the Beta Israel community are recognized as fully Jewish, immigrants from Ethiopia belonging to the smaller Falash Mura community are required to undergo Orthodox conversion after immigrating. The Falash Mura are Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity, often under duress, generations ago. Some 30,000 of them have immigrated to Israel since 1997, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Because the Interior Ministry does not consider the Falash Mura to be Jewish, they cannot immigrate under the Law of Return, and therefore must get special permission from the government to move to Israel.

An ongoing civil war in Ethiopia between the government and rebels from the region of Tigray has intensified pressure to bring the remaining Jews living in Ethiopia. Last November, President Isaac Herzog said: “We must continue to bring them over to Israel quickly.”

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