Minister of the Interior Silvan Shalom (Likud) has announced that his ministry will take immediate steps in order to bring 500 families of IDF soldiers still in Ethiopia to Israel.
Shalom made the declaration in the Knesset today (Monday) during a joint meeting between the Ministries of the Interior and Immigrant Absorption.
The endeavor is part of his stated goal of helping the entire remaining Jewish population of Ethiopia, about 7,000 people, to make aliyah.
Israel has some 135,500 Jewish Israelis of Ethiopian descent, including more than 50,000 born inside the country, according to AFP.
The issue of their full integration into Israeli society has bubbled to the public consciousness in recent months after a series of protests erupted over the beating of Israeli-Ethiopian soldier Damas Pakada.
The chaos which followed has brought a critical eye to how Israeli society has handled Ethiopian Aliyah, and prompted Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) to place social integration at the top of his list of priorities soon after his appointment.
Reviving Ethiopian Aliyah?
Earlier this year, Likud MK Avraham Nagosa also made a public call to resume and complete Ethiopian Aliyah.
The Israeli government decided in 2005 to make a final list of those eligible for aliyah, fearing that if they did not do so, an endless number of Ethiopian Christians would seek to escape their country by claiming Jewish ancestry. The Ethiopian government, too, expressed concern over a potential mass exodus of Ethiopian citizens to Israel.
Most Ethiopian Jews left for Israel in two major operations organized by the State of Israel: Operation Moses in 1984 and Operation Solomon in 1991. Many traveled hundreds of miles by foot before being airlifted by the Israeli government, escaping poverty and anti-Semitism in Ethiopia, and fulfilling their community's dream of returning to the Jewish homeland.
While those initial waves of Aliyah were from the Beta Israel community, which had preserved Jewish traditions and law (Halakha) over thousands of years, subsequent olim hailed from the "Falash Mura" community – descendants of Jews forcibly converted to Christianity in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As a result of their status, their Aliyah under the Right of Return for Jewish exiles has been a contentious issue, although most authorities accept they are descended from the Beta Israel.
But in April, Nagosa vowed to work to get the government to allow a final wave of Aliyah despite those concerns, noting some 6,000 people – including the relatives of immigrants – are stuck in Gondar and Addis.