Over 300 Ethiopian Jews were reunited with their families in Israel on Thursday in a move that Jerusalem hopes ushers in the end to decades of criticisms on how it has treated the issue of families split between that country and Ethiopia.
On Thursday, the non-profit StandWithUs, which combats antisemitism, tweeted: “Today, 316 Ethiopian Jews landed in Israel as part of Operation Rock, which aims to bring 2,000 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants back to their homeland. On Friday morning, another 200 Ethiopian Jews are expected to make aliyah. Welcome home!”
The new immigrants are the relations of Ethiopian Jews rescued from East Africa decades ago. Israel conducted covert operations at the beginning of the 1980s to rescue Jews trapped in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. Many of them were Ethiopians who were helpless during the civil war in the mid 1970s.
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Recent plans to reunite these families were conceived in 2015 as part of what the Israeli government called Operation Rock.
Africanews described the scene at Israel’s international airport as “festive”. The immigrants reportedly wore traditional Ethiopian garbs with a number of them waving flags and kissing the ground.
The group was accompanied from Addis Ababa on board the Ethiopian Airlines flight by Pnina Tamano-Shata, Israel’s first Ethiopian-born Jew to become a minister in charge of integration and aliyah (the immigration of Jews to Israel).
Tamano-Shata’s rise was viewed as a progressive step in the lives of Ethiopian Jews in Israel who have often complained and protested over maltreatment and abuse, sometimes in the hands of Israeli authorities. Unemployment and a lack of education are still quite high among Ethiopian Jews who make up just 2% of Israel’s entire population.
In 2015, Israel saw the biggest protest against the discrimination faced by Ethiopian Jews which turned violent.
Earlier this year, the country’s National Labor Court ruled that 16 Israeli rabbis, originally from Ethiopia, are owed compensation based on discrimination in the allocation of resources by state and local religious councils.