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Organized immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel ends

August 28, 2013|By Batsheva Sobelman
  • Ethiopian Israelis hold up photographs of their relatives during a demonstration outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Ethiopian Israelis hold up photographs of their relatives during a demonstration… (Sebastian Scheiner / Associated…)

JERUSALEM -- A plane carrying 450 immigrants from Ethiopia on Wednesday marked the end of Israel's decades-long effort to bring Jews and their descendants from the African nation to the Jewish state.

About 90,000 Ethiopians were brought to Israel in the organized immigration project that began with a dramatic airlift in 1984-85 dubbed "Operation Moses" and continued with the 36-hour "Operation Solomon" in 1991.

Left behind at that time were thousands of the Falash Mura, the name given to the descendants of the ancient Jewish community who converted to Christianity in the 19th and 20th centuries, most often under pressure. The end of airlifts left some families divided between Ethiopia and Israel.

The Israeli government decided in 2010 to bring the rest of the Falash Mura, many of whom had waited for years in transit camps in Gondar, Ethiopia. Another 7,000 Ethiopians have arrived in the last year in the last of the organized operations, titled "Dove's Wings."

This month, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky handed the mayor of Gondar the key to the city's Jewish school, where envoys prepared hopeful Falash Mura for life in Israel. The last group of immigrants was welcomed Wednesday with a ceremony marking the end of the campaign. But other Ethiopian Israelis demonstrated outside the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem to protest the official termination of the immigration effort.

Hundreds of people who haven't proved their Jewish genealogy to the satisfaction of Israeli authorities remain in Ethiopia for now, although they have  relatives in Israel, community activists told local media. 

Despite considerable inroads made by the community, which has provided Israeli society with diplomats, lawmakers and celebrities, the immigrants' integration into mainstream Israeli society is often difficult. Earlier this year, Israel's state comptroller issued a scathing report faulting authorities for failing to manage what should have been a national priority.

The report found that many programs, in particularly those earmarked for boosting education, were severely under-budgeted and poorly managed. High school dropout rates are high among immigrants, as is early discharge from mandatory military service for serious misbehavior. Gaps in education and immigration difficulties are reflected in the job market, as many Ethiopian Israelis work in low-paying, menial jobs.

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Sobelman is a news assistant in the Times' Jerusalem bureau.

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