Operation Yehudith brings 83 Ethiopian immigrants to Israel

They are the first of 1,000 members of the Falash Mura community who were given permission to reunite with relatives in Israel.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The first group of Ethiopians since Israel’s government approved the immigration of 1,000 people from Addis Ababa last October landed on Monday night.

The 83 men, women and children are members of the Falash Mura, a group whose ancestors were Jewish but who were forced to convert to Christianity.

However, they – and some 7,000 others – have also married into the Jewish community. These thousands therefore left their villages to come to Jewish-run camps set up in Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa and the city of Gondar so that they could one day join relatives who came to Israel over the years.

Falash Mura have waited an average of 15 years to see their families again, some as long as 20 years.

Israel has been slow to bring the last of the Ethiopians eligible for entry. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in 2015 that the government had decided to take in “the last descendants of the communities with an affinity to Israel.” However, only some 1,300 were brought.

Four months ago, Israel’s Cabinet approved the Aliyah of another thousand. Criteria included first of all those who had children in Israel.

Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, welcomed the new immigrants at the airport.

“The Operation Yehudith campaign to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel is a very moving moment, and all of Israel welcomes you,” he said, adding “I know you have left friends and family in Ethiopia and I call upon the government to bring all those who remain in to Israel.”

Opponents of the immigration say that although the Falash Mura have learned about Jewish customs and Israeli life in the camps, which are funded in part by American Jewish charities, they are not Jewish. They are required convert to Judaism once they are in Israel.

They are therefore not arriving under the Law of Return. Rather, they are coming under the Law of Entry, which allows immigration for the purpose of family reunification.

Yet, as more arrive to be joyfully reunited with their loved ones, more families are broken apart.

“I am happy and also sad,” said one new arrival in the airport, “because I am here but my sisters are still in Gondar.”

The former chief rabbi of the Israeli Ethiopian community, Rabbi Yosef Hadane, called on Sunday for the Interior Ministry to finally set up an orderly process to evaluate all the applicants, make its decision on who is approved, bring them to Israel, and close the camps in Ethiopia.