Two-thirds of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel are Christian – report

Two-thirds of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel are Christian – report

A recent report showed that the majority of immigrants from Ethiopia identify as Christian. This comes amid an ongoing crisis in the country, leading thousands more to wait to come to the Promised Land.

The Israeli Immigration Policy Center (IIPC) reported data released by the Population and Immigration Authority that two-thirds of the immigrants from Ethiopia to Israel between 2020 and 2022 identified as Christians.

Most of the community made aliyah from Ethiopia to Israel in two waves of mass immigration assisted by the Israeli government: Operation Moses (1984), and Operation Solomon (1991). Today, Israel is home to the largest Beta Israel community in the world, with about 164,400 citizens of Ethiopian descent in 2021.

It was reported in the Jerusalem Post on Friday that out of more than 5,000 immigrants from Ethiopia who arrived in Israel as part of Operation Tzur Israel, 3,301 identified as Christians. In contrast, only about 1,773 identified as descendants of Jews.  None of the non-Jewish immigrants were eligible for aliyah under the Law of Return but were granted citizenship as a humanitarian act of family reunification.

A previous report from the IIPC analyzing data from the Population and Immigration Authority revealed that since 2000, only about 10% of Ethiopian immigrants identified as Jews upon their arrival in Israel.

On Thursday, Aliyah and Integration Minister Absorption, Ofir Sofer, appointed Brig. Gen. (res.) Harel Knafa as a special envoy to head a team to investigate and recommend a solution for the aliyah crisis from Ethiopia. While the Israeli government has decided to close future immigration from Ethiopia, there are an estimated  4,226 more individuals in war-torn Addis Ababa and Gondar who are waiting to make Aliyah. Of these, 1,226 Jews have been officially recognized as qualified for immigration.  Last week, Israel carried out a rescue mission, bringing in some 200 Ethiopian refugees.

But only 44 out of the 204 rescued were eligible immigrants; the majority were already Israeli citizens.

Dr. Yona Cherki from the  IIPC said that the Israeli government is continuing policies put in place years ago to maintain immigration from Ethiopia, expanding Aliyah to include the Falash Mura community who claim to be descended from Jews forced to convert to Christianity.

Many of these immigrants, Cherki said however, have no proof of their claims.

The State of Israel should enable every Jew who wishes to immigrate to Israel to do so,” Cherki said. “Conversely, those who are immigrating don’t hold the right to do so.”

Last  year, the Israeli government banned Ethiopian Christian pilgrims groups from visiting the country for the Easter holiday over fears they would not return home. This concern was intensified due to an ongoing civil war in Ethiopia. The population authority justified the policy, saying that “many tourist groups arriving from Ethiopia over the past years have indeed not returned and remained in Israel illegally.”

Israel has been struggling with the issue of the immigration of Christian Ethiopians for many years. In 1993, a special committee of the Ministry of Immigration recommended severely limiting the number of these immigrants. The committee recommended that Israel accept relatives of Ethiopian immigrants who would be left “in isolation or distress” by the departure of their families for Israel. This also allowed for  Ethiopians who could prove a relationship with a Jew–as a spouse, child, grandchild, or spouse of a child or grandchild just like any other immigrant under Israeli law. 

In 2003, a resolution to the Law of Return granted citizenship eligibility for Ethiopian Christians who had matrilineal Jewish roots. These individuals were unable to legally immigrate to Israel until this resolution. Concerns regarding the Jewish character of this group and political pressure on the Rabbinate prevented their earlier absorption with other Ethiopians. According to a 2012 census, the Ethiopian-Israeli population in Israel reached 131 400 members.

Christianity in Ethiopia is the country’s largest religion, with members making up 59% of the population. King Ezana first adopted the faith in the 4th century CE, making Ethiopia one of the first regions in the world to officially adopt Christianity. Ethiopia was the only region of northern Africa to survive the expansion of Islam as a Christian state.

A report by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) in April showed a drop in the Jewish majority in Israel since the last Independence Day and pointed to the phenomenon of non-Jewish immigration.  According to the Population and Immigration Authority’s statistics, from 2012-2019, out of some 180,000 people who immigrated via the Law of Return, only 14% of them were recognized as being Jewish according to halacha, Jewish law.

The Law of Return allows non-Jewish children and even grandchildren of a Jew to become citizens. As it currently stands, the law also gives rights of citizenship to the non-Jewish spouses of those up to the third generation.

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