Ethiopian Jews in Israel: final chapter?

By Anshel Pfeffer, November 18, 2010

The Israeli government voted unanimously on Sunday to bring some 8000 members of the Falashmura from Ethiopia over the next four years.

Previous government decisions had stopped the emigration of the Falashmura in 2008.

The decision, sponsored jointly by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai, is purported to be "an end to the story of Ethiopian Jewry". The groups lobbying to allow the Falashmura to emigrate have promised to stop campaigning once the group currently waiting in a transit camp are on their way to Israel.

Over the past 20 years, Israeli governments have repeatedly changed their policies towards the Falashmura,
a group of Ethiopians who converted
to Christianity from the mid-19th century onwards but who claim to have Jewish ancestry.

In 1991, 14,300 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to safety in Israel in "Operation Solomon", and in the following years, more were brought over. In 2002, the Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, ruled that they were of "Zera Yisrael" (Jewish ancestry), and should be allowed to emigrate.

In 2004, the government decided to cap the number of Falashmura to be brought to Israel at 17,000, a total that was reached in August 2008. However, almost 8000 Falashmura remained.

A diverse group of politicians, rabbis and community activists launched a public campaign to have the decision overturned, and it looks like this has worked. On Sunday, after an agreement between the government and the organisations working on behalf of the Falashmura was reached, the government voted in favour. In a few months, the government and the Jewish Agency will begin bringing 200 Falashmura to Israel each month.

Last updated: 10:03am, November 19 2010