Forty-three Ethiopian Jews from the Falashmura community arrived in Israel from Addis Ababa on Tuesday early morning, a move expedited by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of Israel's national election on March 2.
The new immigrants were reunited with family members at Ben-Gurion International Airport and will be housed in absorption centers.
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Immigrant Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant, Likud candidate Gadi Yevarkan and former lawmaker Avraham Neguise accompanied the new immigrants. Both Neguise and Yevrakan are of Ethiopian origin.
Two weeks ago, the cabinet unanimously approved bringing some 400 Falashmura community members to Israel, the descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were forces to convert to Christianity in the 19th and 20th centuries. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, however, opposed the move, raising the suspicion that the initiative was aimed to get Ethiopian Israelis to vote for Likud in the upcoming election. "The decision is not the result of professional staff work that began before the election season and now came to fruition,” Mendelblit said.
In addition, the Interior Ministry's Population, Immigration and Border Authority warned Netanyahu that the move requires examining the Falashmura community's eligibility to make Aliyah and the necessary medical tests they have to undergo, which could take months.
But Netanyahu demanded that the first immigrants arrive before the election, and a Population Authority delegation chose 43 Ethiopian who meet the criteria to make Aliyah, which is about 10 percent of the initial number set to immigrate to Israel. The required process of vaccinating Ethiopian immigrants was shortened to speed up the process.
In 2015, the government promised to bring all the remaining Falashmura waiting in Ethiopia to Israel, totaling about 9,000 people. In September 2018, the cabinet decided to bring 1,000, the parents of children already living in Israel along with their minor or single children. So far 602 of them have been brought to Israel. In total, 1,300 Falashmura community members have arrived in Israel, with the last wave of immigrants coming in 2019.
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Struggle for Ethiopian Jewry chairman Uri Perednik said on Monday that “Even though every Ethiopian Jew immigrates to Israel is a blessing, but only 43 Jews is a minuscule number, only meant to throw us a bone. Almost five years have passed since the government decided to bring all those waiting in Ethiopia, and its failure on this matter is an embarrassment for the country. We will continue to fight until every Ethiopian Jew is in Israel."
Kibertu Ezra, who made Aliya with his parents and some of his siblings, while others remained in Ethiopia, said: “The families of those who were refused Aliya have been living in the dark for the past five years. We have been forced to send all the money we have to our families in Ethiopia. All the press releases and cabinet decisions that have filled out hearts with hope to reunite with our families have very quickly turned into just another disappointment and broken heart. Prime Minister Netanyahu must put an end to this and follow through on the decision he made."