JERUSALEM (AP) – The Israeli government announced on Monday that it agrees to include 1,000 Ethiopian Jews – and to accept only a fraction of the 8,000 remaining Jews of the African country who want to move to Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that a special committee had agreed to allow members of the community who already have children to immigrate to Israel. It was not clear what will happen to the remaining 7,000 people.
Alisa Bodner, a spokesman for the struggle for Ethiopian Aliyah, a group filing a petition with the government to immigrate Ethiopian Jews, called Netanyahu's decision an "incredible disappointment" and "another spit in the face" for the Ethiopian community of Israel. Recalling his previous vows, the group calls on the Prime Minister to provide a path to citizenship to the other 7,000 members of the Jewish Ethiopian community.
Many of the 8,000 practice Jews and have relatives in Israel. But Israel does not regard them as Jewish under strict religious legislation, which means that their immigration requires special approval. The 8,000 are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were converted to Christianity by force about a century ago, and the Israeli government believes they should bring them to Israel as family reunification rather than as "aliyah" or Jewish immigration.
Israel agreed in 2015 to bring the remaining Ethiopians to Israel, but did not give permission for funding for their relocation. The families introduce discrimination.
Avraham Neguise, an Ethiopian-Israeli legislator and member of the special commission, said that although he welcomed the government's decision, he was disappointed that this problem still needs to be resolved.
"We will not stop our mission, our struggle until everyone is reunited with their families here in Israel," he said.
Neguise said the committee had not discussed the plans for the remaining 7,000 Ethiopian Jews at the Monday meeting.
About 144,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin live in Israel, the majority of whom emigrated to Israel in the 1980s and 1990s. Last year, Israel approved immigration for 1,300 Ethiopians with relatives who had already emigrated.
But their assimilation in Israeli society did not go smoothly, with many people who arrived without formal education and subsequently fell into unemployment and poverty. Ethiopian Jews have also protested in recent years against perceived discrimination in Israeli society.