The government voted Sunday to bring the last members of the Falash Mura in Ethiopia to Israel. Once the estimated 8,000 tribe members arrive, mass Aliyah (immigration) from Ethiopia will end.
The Falash Mura are the descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity several decades ago. Those who are of Jewish descent and wish to return to the Jewish faith will be welcomed to Israel, as will those with relatives in Israel.
The final Aliyah will take a maximum of four years, with 600 new entrants to be followed by 200 a month until all current Aliyah candidates have arrived. Once the last organized wave of Aliyah has ended, Ethiopian citizens who wish to make Aliyah will apply under the Law of Return.
Currently, those who hope to gain Israeli citizenship have gathered in several camps, where they face poverty and harsh living conditions. The goal of the new immigration policy is in part to prevent the creation of new camps.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, "The Government of Israel seeks to resolve this problem because there is indeed a complex humanitarian crisis there and so as to avoid the creation of additional refugee camps in Ethiopia... I must say that from my perspective, this closes a circle because during my first term as Prime Minister, I brought approximately 5,000 Falash Mura to Israel and today we are discussing an agreed-upon arrangement with all of the relevant bodies, and there are many, so that we might finally resolve this painful and complicated problem.”
He added, “We have a moral commitment as Jews, as the People of Israel, to find a solution."
The new policy also follows a warning from the government of Ethiopia, which stated that the mass exodus of Ethiopian citizens – and the potential for future mass exodus – was destabilizing Ethiopian society. Ethiopian officials requested that mass Aliyah stop, and warned that relations between Ethiopia and Israel would suffer if it did not.
Over 80,000 Ethiopian citizens have made Aliyah since the founding of the Jewish state. Mass immigration began in the 1980s with Operation Moses. Immigration from Ethiopia has since been limited, due to what Immigration and Absorption officials say are the high costs of integrating Ethiopian immigrants.
Many Ethiopian-Israelis have accused the government of moving too slowly on bringing the community to Israel. However, others have called to end the Falash Mura Aliyah, warning that many members of the community remain Christian despite their expressed desire to live as Jews, and even missionize within the Ethiopian Jewish community.
Last year, the Finance Ministry proposed ending the aliyah of the Falash Mura community, a move they said would save 400 million shekels each year.