TEL AVIV, Israel, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- The Israeli Cabinet on Sunday unanimously decided to open its gates to some 20,000 Ethiopians whose elders were Jewish.
The first Ethiopians who came to Israel were recognized as Jews decades ago. They are black and had different traditions from those of Jews who had migrated to European and Arab countries.
The Interior Ministry's spokeswoman, Tova Ellinson, said some 60,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, but the head of the Ethiopian immigrants' umbrella organization, Addisu Messele, Sunday told United Press International there were 100,000.
The Ethiopian Jews were known there as Falasha, while the new immigrants are the Falashmura -- people who adopted Christianity. "They are Jews' descendants. That's clear," Ellinson said.
Messele said the Jews in Ethiopia were harassed and some villagers adopted Christianity to make their lives easier, but they, too, were not fully accepted as Christians and suffered from almost the same discrimination as the Falasha.
Some 17,000 Falashmura who will be brought to Israel, under Sunday's decision, have been living in a camp in Addis Ababa for as long as 10 years and were supported by an American group -- the North American Conference for Ethiopian Jewry. Some 3,000 to 4,000 others have been living in the northern town of Gonder.
The Ethiopian immigrants have been pressing the Israeli government to bring the Falashmura, describing them as parents and other relatives. Messele said Ethiopians curse them and call them traitors for wanting to leave the country.
A Cabinet statement issued Sunday said it "discussed various issues relating to the immigration of the remainder of Ethiopia's Jews to Israel, and agreed that steps would be taken to ensure that they would be brought to Israel as quickly as possible."
The idea is to bring them over gradually over a period of a year or two and do so "quietly" so that the Ethiopian government would not complain, a well-placed Interior Ministry source told UPI.