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Ethiopian Jews tell government to bring their families to Israel

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Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Hundreds of Ethiopian Israelis demonstrated yesterday in front of the Knesset, asking the government to keep its promises to let 8,000 Ethiopian Jews into Israel, thus uniting hundreds of divided families.

The Jews of Ethiopia – also called “beta Israel” – are a sensitive issue in Israel. Regarded as descendants of the Israelites who accompanied the legendary son of Solomon, Menelik, to Ethiopia in the 9th century BC, the Beta Israel went unnoticed for centuries to the outside Jewish world and for a long time were not considered for aliyah (ascent), i.e. immigration to Israel, because Israel did not consider them Jewish.

Only in 1975 did the rabbinate and the Israeli government recognise their Jewish identity, opening the doors to their arrival in the Jewish state.

At present, some 140,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, and their history of integration is far from successful: they endure great poverty, unemployment and lack of education.

For Israeli authorities, the Beta Israel aliyah ended in the 1990s, leaving behind thousands of Ethiopians who consider themselves Jews, even though they are descendants of Jews forced to convert to Christianity last century.

Under the Law of Return that regulates Aliyah, the descendants of converted communities are excluded from those entitled to Israeli citizenship.

Due to the pressures of some politicians and the Ethiopian community, successive governments have allowed further arrivals over the years.

However, about 8,000 Jews are still stuck in the East African country, most of them with close relatives already living in the Jewish state.

In 2015 Israeli authorities promised to bring over the 8,000 Jews still in Ethiopia but have not yet authorised funding for the move. For this reason, the Beta Israel held a rally yesterday to demand the government keep its promise.

“I have two sisters in Ethiopia still waiting for 13 years… (Our) mother is crying day and night, let’s stop this pain,” said one protester at yesterday’s rally.

Protesters accuse Israel of discrimination, and they fear that the 2019 allocation is insufficient.

The anticipated estimated cost of flying all 8,000 people to Israel along with housing and social services is roughly 1.4 billion shekels, or about US$ 400 million, a sizeable figure but a tiny fraction of a nearly 500 billion shekel (3 billion) national budget.

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