New arrivals

130 Ethiopian immigrants land in Israel, but thousands more still waiting to come

Since December 2020, some 5,000 people have made aliyah from Ethiopia with Jewish Agency as part of ‘Operation Tzur Yisrael’

A group of 130 Ethiopian immigrants touched down in Israel on Wednesday in the final flight of this phase of what’s been dubbed “Operation Tzur Yisrael,” the effort to bring Ethiopians eligible for Israeli citizenship to the Jewish state.

There are no concrete plans or funding for the next phase of the operation, leaving the future of the thousands of eligible, would-be immigrants still in Ethiopia uncertain.

Some 5,000 Ethiopian immigrants have arrived in Israel in the past two and a half years –- 3,000 in the first phase of the operation from December 2020 to June 2022 and 2,000 in the second phase over the past year. According to the Jewish Agency for Israel, which arranged the immigration flights, some 70% of the new immigrants are under the age of 35, half of them children and teenagers.

“By completing this milestone in Operation Tzur Israel, and continuing to facilitate the aliyah and absorption of Ethiopians who have long yearned to arrive in the Jewish homeland, we have actualized the core value of the State of Israel and the Jewish people to advocate for the most vulnerable individuals among us,” Mark Wilf, chairman of the board of governors of the Jewish Agency, said in a statement.

The Jewish Agency worked closely with the government and with nonprofit organizations to facilitate the absorption of the immigrants into Israeli society upon arrival, the organization said.

This included the standard offerings to any new immigrant of housing in an “absorption center” and free Hebrew-language instruction, as well as a stipend and tax benefits. In addition to these, the Jewish Agency highlighted a few initiatives aimed at specifically easing the immigration of Ethiopians to Israel, including a “direct absorption model” supported by UJA-Federation of New York, in which new arrivals moved directly into rented apartments in the southern town of Kiryat Gat. Another program, called Aliyah Tech, was designed to help new Ethiopian immigrants get jobs in Israel’s high-tech industry.

“The efforts were also made possible with the help of Jewish Federations, Keren Hayesod, private donors and foundations, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, as well as friends of Israel from Korea and around the world,” the organization said.

For the most part, the immigrants in Operation Tzur Yisrael are not necessarily eligible for citizenship in their own right but are able to immigrate as they have first-degree relatives in Israel. Their immigration was approved by a government decision in 2015, but only began in significant numbers in December 2020 under then-Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata.

Though thousands more are still in Ethiopia approved for immigration following this last flight, no budget has been allocated to bring them over. Until then, they are staying in camps in the cities of Addis Ababa and Gondar.

Asked if current Immigration Minister Ofir Sofer has specific plans to continue the immigration, a spokesperson for the minister said: “Should there be [such plans], we will update you.”

The Struggle for Ethiopian Aliyah, a grassroots group advocating for immigration from Ethiopia, which recently received funding from UJA-Federation of New York, denounced the lack of funding for continued aliyah from Addis Ababa and Gondar.

“We call for Immigration and Absorption Minister Ofir Sofer to take care of those who are waiting in Ethiopia now,” the director of the group, Surafel Alamo, said in a statement. “The lives of those waiting in Gondar and Addis Ababa are in the immigration and absorption minister’s hands.”