JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday decided to allow 1,000 Ethiopians to immigrate to Israel, his office announced, in a rare intake of the Falashmura community.
The Falashmuras claim to be descendants of Ethiopian Jews, and they have long fought for the right to settle in Israel, even though the Jewish state does not recognize them as such.
Israel — which took in tens of thousands of Jews from the African nation in the 1980s and 1990s — considers that process to be complete. It also applies a restrictive immigration policy for non-Jews.
But in 2015, the government established a nominative list of 9,000 Ethiopians who were allowed to immigrate to Israel within five years on the basis of family reunion.
Netanyahu said that since that decision, 1,300 Falashmuras had immigrated to Israel.
“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 said.
Israel’s Ethiopian community now numbers around 140,000 people, including more than 50,000 born in the Jewish state.
Most of them are descendants of communities cut off from the Jewish world for centuries, and were belatedly recognized by Israeli religious authorities.
But the Falashmuras, most of whom were forced to convert to Christianity in the 19th century but remained closely attached to the Jewish tradition, never received such recognition.
Ethiopian Jews have staged a series of protests in recent years to denounce racism and discrimination against them in Israel, and to demand that family members in Ethiopia be allowed to join them.
Some Ethiopian Jews oppose new waves of immigration, arguing that Israel is facing enough difficulties integrating the existing community and that those who are still in Ethiopia are not Jewish.
“We are not prepared to accept racism against the Ethiopian Jewish community or against any other (community) in Israel,” Netanyahu said.
A non-governmental organization representing Ethiopians in Israel called on Netanyahu to give the remaining Jews in the African nation permission to immigrate.
“We demand that the PM commit to his promises and provide an immediate resolution to bring to Israel all the 8,000 members of the remaining Jewish community of Ethiopia,” said Alisa Bodner, spokeswoman for the Struggle for Ethiopian Aliyah group.
“As long as the government continues to violate the 2015 commitment and keep families apart, we will continue to protest and fight for justice.”