A group of 34 immigrants from Ethiopia landed in Israel early Thursday morning, the third group to arrive since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
Like other immigrants landing in the country, these new arrivals will be put into quarantine for 14 days immediately upon arrival.
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About 8,000 Falashmura – descendants of the Ethiopian Jewish community forced to convert to Christianity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – still remain in Africa.
Three weeks before Israel’s last Knesset election on March 2, the cabinet approved plans to bring 400 Falashmura to the country in subsequent months. Many members of the community have family in Israel. The snap decision to bring the group over was widely seen as an attempt to curry favor with Ethiopian Jews in Israel ahead of the election.
All Falashmura immigrating to Israel are required to go through a symbolic conversion to Judaism. A first group of 43 members of the community arrived in Israel a week before the election.
A second flight, which was scheduled to land in mid-March, after Israel went into lockdown over the coronavirus, was canceled at the last minute but then rescheduled for the following week amid public protests. Another 73 members of the community arrived on that flight. Yet another group of 119 Falashmura arrived in mid-May.
With the arrival of the latest group this week, that brings the total to 269. It is not clear if and when the other 131 immigrants will be allowed into the country.
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Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata told Haaretz that the process has been delayed because of the coronavirus, which has prevented representatives of the Interior Ministry from flying to Ethiopia and determining who is eligible for aliyah. Interviews that were supposed to have been conducted in person, she said, were moved to videoconferencing.
However, because of widespread internet disruptions in Ethiopia in recent weeks, it has been nearly impossible to conduct these interviews.
Tamano-Shato is the first Ethiopian-born woman to serve in the Knesset and also the first to be appointed a cabinet minister. Originally a member of the centrist Yesh Atid party, she defected to Kahol Lavan when its chairman, Benny Gantz, split with Yesh Atid and formed a government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“From the minute I stepped into this position, I have been working hard to put together a program for bringing the remnants of the community in Ethiopia to Israel,” said Tamano-Shato. “It is a painful and complex issue, and I feel it in a personal way.”
The minister noted that when she immigrated to Israel as a 3-year-old, she was initially separated from her mother, who remained in Sudan. “To me, separating children from their parents is not a Jewish thing to do, but that is also what we are doing now,” she said.
“My goal is to bring all the remaining members of the community to Israel within the next two years and close the transit camps there once and for all,” she said.