Despite Official End of Effort, Ethiopian Aliyah Continues

Panel examining 4,000 appeals from immigrants, many of whom were forced to leave family behind.

Daniel Bar-On

Although organized immigration to Israel from Ethiopia drew to a close last summer, a steady stream of new arrivals have been making their way to the Jewish state ever since.

According to figures obtained by Haaretz, roughly 160 Ethiopians have immigrated since the official conclusion of "Operation Dove’s Wings" in August, with about half of them arriving last month.

Operation Dove’s Wings brought roughly 6,500 members of the Falashmura community to Israel over a 10-month period. The Falashmura are descendants of Jews who were pressured into converting to Christianity in the 19th and 20th centuries. Under a special cabinet ruling, they were granted permission to settle in Israel on condition that they undergo a full Orthodox conversion upon arrival and prove they descended from Jews on their mother's side.

The overwhelming majority of Ethiopians who arrived in Israel since the summer were deemed eligible for immigration under the Law of Return. In other words, they were able to prove they had at least one Jewish grandparent. The few exceptions include a handful of Falashmura whose immigration had been approved as part of Operation Dove’s Wing, but were prevented from flying due to extenuating circumstances such as illness or late-stage pregnancy.

The 6,500 Falashmura who arrived on Operation Dove’s Wings were approved out of a list of 10,000 applicants whose cases were examined by the government. Even before the operation ended, a special government committee was set up to examine appeals by members of the Falashmura community who were left behind. In many cases, they were individuals who had close family members already living in Israel.

The appeals panel, appointed by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, is headed by Moshe Vigdor, the former director-general of the Jewish Agency. Sabine Hadad, the spokeswoman of the Interior Ministry, told Haaretz that since the beginning of the year, about 4,000 appeals have been submitted to the committee. The deadline for such appeals is March 31.

Vigdor's committee was instructed to limit its examination to cases of individuals with close relatives living in Israel and special humanitarian cases. Only family members living in Israel are allowed to submit appeals.

Ethiopian Jews have been brought to Israel in three major waves – Operation Moses in 1984, Operation Solomon in 1992, and Operation Dove’s Wings, which began in October 2012.