One hundred more Ethiopian Jews are expected to arrive on Friday as part of Operation Rock of Israel. This will bring the total number to 2,000 by the end of January 2021.
Hundreds of Ethiopian immigrants on Thursday arrived in Israel, as the government took a step toward carrying out its pledge to reunite hundreds of families split between the two countries.
Some 316 people landed aboard the Ethiopian Airlines flight, with many waving flags or stopping to kiss the ground. Many were dressed in traditional Ethiopian robes, and many women held babies in their arms.
Although the families are of Jewish descent and many are practicing Jews, Israel does not consider them Jewish under religious law. Instead, they were permitted to enter the country under a family-unification program that requires special government approval.
A large delegation of Israeli officials welcomed the group, and Pnina Tamano-Shata, the country's first Ethiopian-born Cabinet minister, traveled to Ethiopia to join them on the flight.
"My wife Sara and myself were standing there with tears in our eyes," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahusaid at a welcoming ceremony. "This is the essence of our Jewish story, the essence of the Zionist story."
Netanyahu fails to implement 2015 agreement
Community activists have accused the government of dragging its feet in implementing a 2015 decision to bring all remaining Ethiopians of Jewish lineage to Israel within five years. Netanyahu's Likud party repeated that pledge before national elections early this year.
The Struggle for Ethiopian Aliyah, an activist group promoting family unification, estimates some 7,000 Ethiopian Jews remain behind in Ethiopia, some of whom have been waiting for years to join their families.
"Once again, the government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided to place quotas on the immigration of Jews from Ethiopia," said Muket Fenta, an activist who has been fighting for over a decade to bring his aunt to Israel.
"The government is celebrating a few hundred immigrants from Ethiopia, while thousands were supposed to be here and are still left behind while their fate is in question," he said.
What is Israel's relationship with Ethiopian Jews?
The Falash Mura ethnic group has lived in isolation in the Ethiopian highlands around the historic city of Gondar in the north for more than 2,500 years.
Little is known about their origins, but it is widely believed they lead back to the biblical King Solomon. Forced to convert to Christianity in the 18th and 19th centuries, they adhered to their Jewish rites and later returned to Judaism.
Originally, Israel declared its 30-year Israeli resettlement campaign for Ethiopian Jews to be over in autumn 2013. However, at the end of 2015 it gave the immigration of the remaining Falash Mura the go-ahead. Around 120,000 Jews of Ethiopian descent live in Israel today.
mo/rt (AP, KNA)