With Israel loosening its coronavirus-related restrictions, 119 immigrants from Ethiopia are scheduled to arrive in the country on Thursday. This is the second group of Falashmura – descendants of the Ethiopian Jewish community forced to convert to Christianity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – to land in Israel since the outbreak of the pandemic.
The immigrants will be arriving in the afternoon on a special flight from Addis Ababa, organized by the Jewish Agency. Among the organizations that helped finance the cost of bringing these immigrants over is the Evangelical-run International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.
The immigrants’ arrival comes just days after Pnina Tamano-Shata was sworn in as aliyah and integration minister on Sunday. The first Ethiopian-born woman to serve in the Knesset, she is also the first to be appointed a cabinet minister. Originally a member of the Yesh Atid party, Tamano-Shata defected to Kahol Lavan after the two centrist parties split up. Their breakup came after Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz decided to join a government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu despite earlier promises that he would not do so.
Three weeks before Israel’s last Knesset election on March 2, the cabinet approved plans to bring 400 members of the Falashmura community 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 arrived in Israel in late February, 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.
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Hagit Halali, the spokeswoman for the Jewish Agency, said that the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod also provided funding for the flights and absorption of these immigrants.
Upon their arrival on Thursday, she said, the newest arrivals will be taken to a special facility in northern Israel, where they will spend 14 days in quarantine. This requirement applies to all returning Israelis and immigrants.