Israel Marks 10th Year of Airlift As Debate over Jewish Identity Goes on

On the 10th anniversary of Operation Moses, the first airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, government officials called on Israel’s chief rabbis to recognize Ethiopian immigrants as full Jews.

“Find the courage to do this,” Absorption Minister Yair Tsaban exhorted the chief rabbis, who have questioned the authenticity of the Ethiopians’ Judaism, which dates back to biblical times.

“There is no other community as proud of their Jewishness as the Jews of Ethiopia,” Tsaban said at a ceremony at the president’s residence in Jerusalem on Sunday.

During Operation Moses, some 7,600 Ethiopian immigrants were flown to Israel on dozens of night flights from Sudan during a 45-day period.

Thousands more Ethiopians arrived in Israel in 1991 as part of Operation Solomon.

In marking the event, President Ezer Weizman said that friendly governments had assisted in carrying out the 1984 operation, including the United States, which brought 600 Jews from the refugee campus of Sudan in cargo planes.

Weizman stressed that the immigrants were having difficulties being absorbed into the daily and religious life of Israel, but he said they overcoming them.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee said this week in a statement that Ethiopian immigrants who arrived in Israel during Operation Moses and throughout the 1980s were now enjoying similar rates of employment as their Israeli-born counterparts.

Mean while, the ongoing debate continues over the immigration of those Jews remaining in Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

Under a family reunification plan, the government has agreed to bring over relatives of those Ethiopians who already emigrated to Israel.

But Israeli Embassy officials in Addis Ababa have complained that thousands of Ethiopians, including now-Jews, have flocked to the capital in hopes of receiving permission to leave.

Some Ethiopian community leaders in Israel have charged the government with trying to hold up the reunification of Ethiopian families.

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