Interior minister plans to bring families of 500 soldiers from Ethiopia

Ethiopian immigrants arrive in Israel with Operation Dove’s Wings in October 2012. (Courtesy of the Jewish Agency for Israel)

Interior Minister Silvan Shalom said Monday that the ministry would work “immediately” to allow 500 families of Israel Defense Forces soldiers to immigrate from Ethiopia.

Relatives claim that some of the community members have been waiting to immigrate for close to 30 years.

At a Knesset committee meeting, Shalom also said he would work to bring 7,000 people who are said to constitute the remainder of Ethiopia’s Jewish community to Israel.

“I have a strong desire to bring the remainder of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and I hope that in my position as interior minister I will be able to do this,” said Shalom.

Likud Knesset member and activist for the Ethiopian community Avraham Neguise spoke of families being torn apart as some members were denied the right to immigrate to Israel.

“Families were split up, including children from parents, and the ones left behind remained without help and without involvement of the humanitarian organizations that worked there until now,” said Neguise. “We call on the government to decide and to bring the remainder of the community to Israel, immediately.”

Former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar said that a list of the names of those waiting in transfer stations in Gondar and Addis Ababa had been sent to the interior minister in order to facilitate a solution.

Rabbi Menachem Waldman, director of Ethiopian spiritual absorption for the Jewish Agency, added that many of the remaining people were born to Christian mothers and thus are not considered Jewish according to Jewish law. Nevertheless, he said that they identify as Jewish and observe Jewish law.

Waldman added that immigrants who are not technically Jewish have undergone conversion upon their arrival in Israel.

Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen warned that “the [lack of] absorption of the remaining Jews of Ethiopia is caused by racism, and if the color of their skin would be different, they would already be here.”

Ema Mengisto told the meeting tearfully that her parents and siblings have been waiting for 28 years to immigrate to Israel, and that some relatives have been killed there..

Previous Interior Minister Gilad Erdan promised in May to bring relatives of Israeli soldiers who fought in last summer’s war in Gaza to Israel, but he was criticized for not following through with his promise.

Erdan’s promise came nearly two years after the Jewish Agency’s decision to stop mass immigration flights from Ethiopia left thousands of community members stuck in Africa.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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