JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel on Sunday approved the entry of some 9,000 Ethiopians known as Falash Mura who claim Jewish lineage, ending decades of debate on whether to allow their immigration despite uncertainty over their right to settle in the Jewish state.
The cabinet unanimously voted in favor of allowing the last group of Falash Mura to immigrate over the next five years but their acceptance will be conditional on a successful Jewish conversion process, the Interior Ministry said.
They have been waiting at transit camps in Ethiopia for years waiting for Israel's green light.
"Today we have taken an important decision, to bring to Israel within the next five years the last of the communities with links to Israel waiting in Addis Ababa and Gonder," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
Israel's "law of return" allows Jews to claim citizenship and take residency. The first Ethiopian Jews were airlifted in the 1980s and 1990s following a rabbinical creed that ruled they were descendents of the biblical Dan tribe but not all the Falash Mura have so far been allowed to settle.
Some 135,000 Jews of Ethiopian descent live in Israel, whose population numbers over 8 million. They have long complained of discrimination, racism and poverty which led to violent protests on the streets of Tel Aviv earlier this year.
Ethiopian Jews have joined the ranks of legislators and the officer corps in the country's military but official figures show they lag behind other Israelis.
Ethiopian households earn 35 percent less than the national average and only half of their youth receive high school diplomas, compared with 63 percent for the rest of the population.
(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Digby Lidstone)