Immigrants leave Ethiopia, land in Israel just before Ethiopia closes borders

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Israel welcomed 72 new immigrants from Ethiopia just hours before the African nation officially closed its borders to prevent further coronavirus spread.

The 14 Ethiopian families landed at Ben-Gurion Airport this week. However, even this news was not without its controversy as the latest airlift excluded anyone over the age of 60.

“This policy is unacceptable,” said former Knesset member Avraham Neguise, who is of Ethiopian descent. “They, too, must be brought to Israel to fulfill their dream of returning to Zion, the Jewish homeland. No matter whether there is the coronavirus or not, I appeal to the government of Israel to reconsider its policy of age discrimination.”

Neguise noted that a group of North American immigrants who arrived in Israel the week before in age from nine months old to 73.

“As the representative of world Jewry, the Jewish Agency is responsible for bringing Jews from the four corners of the Earth in cooperation with the State of Israel,” Neguise said. “If this [ageist] policy was not implemented for other countries, such as America, why is this policy implemented for the Ethiopian immigration?”

A Jewish Agency spokesperson said that immigrants enter in order of the approval of their applications.

Approximately 9,000 Ethiopians with close relatives in Israel are awaiting permission to immigrate to Israel. But because the Interior Ministry does not consider them Jewish according to its strict rabbinic definition, their immigration must be specifically approved.

Our dear friends at the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem sponsored the flights of these 72 Ethiopians and a group of 26 Russian immigrants who arrived from St. Petersburg and went into immediately two-week self-quarantine due to the COVID-19 threat.

“While the government’s measures to fight the Coronavirus is impacting the whole country, I am glad we are still able to help Israel pull through this crisis in a number of ways,” said ICEJ President Jürgen Bühler. “This includes packing and delivering food boxes to senior citizens, caring for Holocaust survivors, and bringing Jews home from Russia and Ethiopia at this very moment.”

Despite border closings since the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis, some 800 immigrants have arrived in Israel since the beginning of March from the United States, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, France, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, South Africa, Australia and other countries. Another 250 immigrants from around the world are expected by Passover.

New Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia land at Ben Gurion Airport and bend down to kiss the ground in honor of their arrival in the land of Israel. (Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

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