TEL AVIV, AFP— A group of 175 Ethiopians who claim Jewish heritage landed in Israel on Monday, seeking to become citizens of the Jewish state, a government agency in charge of helping new immigrants said.
A second group of 175 of the Ethiopians, known as Falash Mura, are expected to arrive on Tuesday, Jewish Agency spokesman Michael Jankelowitz said.
The new immigrants will be sent to the 21 Jewish Agency “absorption centres” in Israel that specialise in dealing with Ethiopian immigrants.
Israel began bringing Ethiopia’s Jewish community to Israel in 1984 under the Law of Return, which guarantees citizenship to all Jews. That operation was largely completed by 1991.
But the Falash Mura are not considered Jewish under the faith’s strict rules because their ancestors converted to Christianity, many of them under duress, in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Some have relatives within the Ethiopian Jewish community living in Israel, but they are not eligible to join them under the Law of Return.
In order to emigrate to Israel, they must demonstrate a matrilineal Jewish heritage, and agree to convert to Judaism within two years of arriving here, Jankelowitz said.
Successive Israeli governments have authorised the immigration of some 11,000 Falash Mura. Those arriving Monday and Tuesday are the last members of a group of 3,000 who received permission to come to Israel two years ago.
Their arrival had been held up by an airline dispute between Israel and Ethiopia, but a resolution was reached that will allow the first members of a final group to begin emigrating to Israel in February.
Israel’s cabinet authorised the immigration of the 8,000-strong group in November, citing their difficult living conditions in Ethiopia.
Some 100,000 Ethiopian Jews now live in Israel.