JERUSALEM, Israel – Israeli leaders are expediting plans to potentially bring thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel as the East African country continues to be rocked by a bloody civil war.
The plan applies only to Ethiopians who already have first-degree relatives in Israel. This could mean up to 5,000 Ethiopians will be airlifted but it is unclear when the process will be completed and how many will be allowed to make Aliyah (immigrate) to Israel.
Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked reached the compromise on Tuesday after a tense disagreement, according to Israeli media reports.
Shaked opposed airlifting the Ethiopians, arguing that most of the new immigrants were not actually Jews and that the lives of those still in the East African country are not in real danger.
Tamano-Shata, who herself is Ethiopian, threatened to resign if no more people were airlifted, Haaretz reported.
Israeli officials believe at least 7,000 Jews are remaining in Ethiopia and many of them live in the Tigray region – the epicenter of the country’s year-long civil war. Since December, Israel has airlifted 2,000 Jews out of Ethiopia and brought them to the Holy Land, but activists say more needs to be done.
Israeli media reported on Sunday that the National Security Council is against airlifting Ethiopians, citing a "threat" of non-Jews "seeking to take advantage of the economic system in Israel." The council also said in a document published by Israel’s Channel 12 News that thousands of Ethiopians waiting to immigrate to Israel were in no immediate danger.
The process of bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel has encountered repeated delays and many wait decades before they can immigrate. But the civil war has increased pressure on Israeli leaders to accelerate the stalled immigration of Ethiopian Jews.
“Thousands are still waiting to make aliyah (immigrate) to Israel, and some of them are threatened and in a worrying situation. We must continue to act to bring them over to Israel quickly,” President Isaac Herzog said last week.