The aliyah and interior ministers agreed on Tuesday to expedite the process to airlift thousands of Ethiopians with first-degree relatives in Israel, as the civil war in the East African country continues unabated.
The compromise struck between Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked – who had opposed previous proposals on this matter – could mean up to 5,000 Ethiopians would be brought to Israel.
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However, it remains unclear when the process to bring them to Israel would be completed, or how many of them would eventually be allowed to make aliyah.
Political sources said Monday that Tamano-Shata, who is Ethiopian-born, had been “warning that she cannot continue to be part of the government at a time when Ethiopian Jewry is being slaughtered.”
Minister Shaked had opposed the move to let the group of Ethiopians into Israel, claiming that most of the newly arrived Ethiopian immigrants are not Jewish, and that the lives of those still in Ethiopia are not in real danger.
Her claims come in light of an investigation conducted by the Population and Immigration Authority about the arrival of 61 Ethiopian migrants this year, which cast “major doubts” over both their heritage and the risks they faced.
The two ministers met on Tuesday with representatives of the National Security Council, the defense establishment and other officials.
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On Sunday it was reported that the National Security Council opposes airlifting Ethiopians, citing a "threat" of non-Jews "seeking to take advantage of the economic system in Israel."
In an official paper, the council called such a move "a dangerous, unprecedented demographic mistake."
Senior Israeli officials have said they don't believe an operation to bring thousands of Ethiopians to the country would be carried out at all, but the issue may be reconsidered depending on the situation in Ethiopia.
In recent days, the civil war in Ethiopia has spread to all regions of the country. In light of the escalation of the fighting, the Foreign Ministry has decided to repatriate some family members of Israeli diplomats in Ethiopia, following similar decisions by other countries, including the United States.
The Ethiopians claiming a right to emigrate to Israel are not members of Beita Israel, the distinct group of Jewish Ethiopians who existed for centuries apart from the country’s Christian population. They are mainly relatives of the Falashmura – converts to Christianity long regarded by many of the Beita Israel as renegades.
The Falashmura were not allowed to join the 1991 Operation Solomon airlift, though some managed to make it onto the planes. But in the years since, a steady stream of them have filled the former Beita Israel compounds in Addis Ababa and Gondar, and their relatives in Israel, with the backing of American-Jewish organizations, have successfully lobbied the government for their emigration.
Despite repeated commitments over the years that the government had facilitated the emigration of everyone on the various lists of remaining Falashmura, the compounds have always filled up again.
The overwhelming view among all Israeli diplomats and Jewish Agency officials who have dealt with the issue for over a decade is that there “are no longer any Jews in Ethiopia” and at most a handful of “descendants of Jews” who can somehow be eligible for Israeli citizenship.
Anshel Pfeffer contributed to this report.