Rivlin first Israeli president to visit Ethiopia, aims to ‘deepen friendship and cooperation’

Rivlin leaves Tuesday for a two-day official state visit to Ethiopia, where deepening business ties will be the main focus.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

President Reuven Rivlin will fly to Ethiopia Tuesday afternoon for the first visit by an Israeli head of state to that country.

He will be bringing with him business and public leaders from both Israel and the Jewish world with the stated aim of working “to deepen our friendship and cooperation with Ethiopia.” Among the fields that the two countries are most interested in working together on are water technology, health, agriculture, food security and cyberspace.

Today’s world being what it is, however, Rivlin will also have meetings on what he called “the most important challenge” – terrorism. “We must all stand united against this terrible evil,” he noted in his statement. “Also in this challenge, we are partners, and we must work together.”

The president will meet in his hotel with representatives of the Ethiopian Jewish community who are waiting to make Aliyah. He will be joined by the two Ethiopian members of Knesset, Penina Tamano-Shata (from the opposition Yesh Atid party) and Avraham Neguise (Likud), who chairs the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee.

However, the Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday that the president will not make the gesture of visiting the Jewish community center in Addis Ababa during his visit, disappointing the local Jewish leadership.

There are currently an estimated 7,700 Falash Mura, Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity who may be brought to Israel by the end of 2020 if they meet certain criteria. Most have been waiting for years – some even decades — for the Israeli government to allow them to be reunited with family members already in Israel, and activists have repeatedly accused the government of foot-dragging on the issue.

Deepening business ties are front and center in this visit, however, and the Israeli business delegation will be led by Shraga Brosh, the president of Israel’s Manufacturers Association. Rivlin will address a conference, titled “60 Years of Impact for Good,” with the participation of President Mulatu Teshome and a representative of Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, which has had many Ethiopians in its programs over the years.

The president will also be the guest of honor at a state dinner hosted by his counterpart on Wednesday.

In July 2016, Prime Minister Netanyahu traveled to four East African countries, including Ethiopia, in the first visit of a sitting prime minister to Africa in 29 years, and agreements of cooperation were signed in the fields of science, technology and tourism.