Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked pledged to help Ethiopians claiming Jewish identity to immigrate to Israel as soon as possible during a rare visit to Ethiopia.
Shaked visited the synagogue in Addis Ababa on Sunday.
“These programs that will eventually reunite Ethiopian Jews with their families in Israel are not generally easy,” said Shaked to the group gathered in the synagogue.
“But I will try everything within my power to work with relevant offices to make this happen in the shortest time possible,” she said.
Shaked, on what is reported to be her first official visit to Africa, said she came to find out more about the situation of Ethiopia’s estimated 8,000 remaining Jews.
Members of the Ethiopian Jews who attended the meeting told her that they want to move to Israel, where many family members moved years ago.
“We know aliyah for Jews that are descendants in other countries happened so swiftly that sometimes even their dogs were also included as they moved to Israel. Are we less important than these dogs?” asked Meles Sidisto, the community head of Ethiopia’s Jews in Addis Ababa.
In an emotional speech, Sidisto reaffirmed that members of Ethiopia’s Jewish population plan to stage a mass hunger strike should Israel fail to reunite them with their families soon.
The Ethiopians met with Shaked in the small hall decorated with Israeli flags and scriptures. Some said they have been separated for decades from close family members who moved to Israel.
About 140,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today, a small minority in a country of over 8 million. Their assimilation hasn’t been smooth, with many arriving without a modern education and then falling into unemployment and poverty.
The Israeli government did not approve the funding for the movement of the Ethiopians in its new budget but said a special ministerial committee would to discuss the issue. A date for that meeting had not been announced.