Rivlin lands in Ethiopia for first visit by an Israeli president

Set to meet with Falash Mura community waiting to emigrate to Israel, president tells welcoming committee he is ‘returning the visit’ of the biblical Queen of Sheba to King Solomon

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday began the first visit of an Israeli head of state to Ethiopia, telling a welcoming party at the airport that he was “returning the visit of the Queen Sheba, and coming on behalf of King Solomon.”

Rivlin said he wanted to develop and deepen cooperation between the two countries in some of the many fields in which Israel excels, as well as in the battle against terror.

The president, who will return to Israel on Thursday, is set to meet with his Ethiopian counterpart Mulatu Teshome, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian Patriarch Abuna Mathias, and other senior figures.

On Tuesday evening, he was due to meet with representatives of the Ethiopian Falash Mura community waiting to emigrate to Israel.

Members of the Falash Mura Jewish Ethiopian community wait for prayer service before attending the Passover seder meal, in the synagogue in Gondar, Ethiopia, April 22, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Falash Mura is a colloquial, albeit pejorative, term from the Ge’ez language that describes Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity in the 19th and 20th centuries, largely due to persecution and economic strife, but who maintained a distinct communal identity.

The president’s delegation includes two Knesset lawmakers of Ethiopian extraction  — Avraham Neguise (Likud), chair of the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee and a member of the Caucus for the Jewish Community in Ethiopia, and Penina Tamanu-Shatahair (Yesh Atid), chair of the Caucus to Promote the Status of Jews From Ethiopia.

Also accompanying the visit is popular Israeli singer Ester Rada.

Soul singer Ester Rada. (Courtesy Sharban Lupo)

The president is also travelling with a substantial delegation of public, business, and community leaders from Israel and overseas — among them Shraga Brosh, President of the Manufacturers Association of Israel.

“Ethiopia is experiencing huge growth,” Brosh said, “and we want to be part of it.” Israeli companies could partner with Ethiopian ones in projects to improve infrastructure, agriculture, water, and energy management, he added.

Gadi Arieli, Director General of the Israel Export Institute, said his organization was heading a delegation of 35 representatives of businesses dealing with water, health, agriculture, energy, homeland security, and cyber, some of whom were already active in the African country.

He said he hoped the visit would open many doors and expose the Israeli companies to more senior levels of management than they had encountered to date.

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