Israel’s government on Sunday approved the immigration of several thousand Jews from war-torn Ethiopia, some of whom have waited for decades to rejoin their relatives in Israel.
The decision marked a step toward resolving an issue that has long complicated the government’s relationship with the country’s Ethiopian community.
About 140,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel. Community leaders estimate that around 6,000 others are left behind in Ethiopia.
Although these families are of Jewish descent and many are practicing Judaism, Israel does not consider them Jewish under religious law. Instead, they are fighting to enter the country under a family-integration program that requires special government approval.
Community activists have accused the government of dragging its feet in implementing a 2015 decision to bring all remaining Ethiopians of Jewish descent to Israel within five years.
Under Sunday’s decision, an estimated 3,000 people will be eligible to move to Israel. These include parents, children and siblings of relatives already in Israel, as well as orphans whose parents were in Israel at the time of death.
“Today we are correcting an ongoing injustice,” said the country’s immigration minister and herself an Ethiopian immigrant, Panina Tamano Shata. She said the program was a response to those who have waited “too many years to come to Israel with their families” and to resolve the “painful issue”.
In a joint statement with Israel’s interior minister, she said the decision came as a response to the precarious security situation in Ethiopia, where fighting between the government and Tigre forces has killed thousands over the past year.
It was not immediately clear when the airlift would begin. The government appointed a special projects coordinator to oversee the effort.
Kasav Shifera, chairman of the Group of Activists for the Immigration of Ethiopian Jews, welcomed Sunday’s decision but said there was still a long way to go.
“On one hand this decision makes me happy. Three thousand people are making a dream come true and are uniting with their families,” he said.
“But this is not the final solution. Thousands of people are still waiting in the camps, some for more than 25 years. We expect the government to bring them all,” he said.