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.