Jerusalem: The Israeli government is expected to approve the long awaited 'aliyah' (immigration) of more than 7,200 Indian Jews from the north-eastern states of Manipur and Mizoram in the coming weeks, a media report said.
The decision to allow the last members of the "lost" Bnei Menashe tribe to immigrate to Israel is being greeted with excitement by local Evangelical Christian groups, who view it as fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and who have pledged financial support for the move.
The Ministerial Committee on Immigration and Absorption, headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, decided, about three months ago, "in principle" to bring the remaining 7,232 members of the northeastern Indian community to the Jewish state
"I am very optimistic that within the next few weeks we will at last have a historic breakthrough which will allow the lost tribe of Bnei Menashe to return to Zion," Michael Freund, founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based organisation that has been at the forefront of Bnei Menashe immigration to Israel, was quoted as saying.
More than 1,700 members of the north-eastern Indian Jewish community, referred as Bnei Menashe (sons of Menashe), have immigrated to Israel over the last decade, but their aliya was subsequently halted in 2007 over the issue of their "Jewishness", even though the Israeli Chief Rabbinate had earlier recognised the community as "descendants of Israel".
The community claims descent from one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel, who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago.
Their ancestors are believed to have wandered through Central Asia and the Far East for centuries, before settling in what is now northeastern India, along the border with Burma and Bangladesh. Freund expects the immigration to be spread over a period of three to five years.
Israel's 'Law of Return' grants Jews or descendants of Jews automatic citizenship and financial assistance, but the Bnei Menashe community had to undergo a conversion process to Judaism before immigrating to the Jewish state.
Freund said that Shavei Israel was likely to cover most, if not all of the more than 20 million USDs estimated costs of transporting the immigrants to Israel from India, and costs incurred during their initial period upon arrival.
The government would cover most of their basic absorption costs, the report said.
The head of the most prominent Evangelical Christian organisation in Israel has also pledged to help cover some of the costs of the immigration.
"We are absolutely dedicated to supporting this initiative and helping the government of Israel in this venture,” Juergen Buehler, Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, was quoted as saying.
"Many people in our constituents around the world will be very excited to help out with this great initiative," Buehler added.
The Evangelical leader said that their target is to be able to finance one flight of immigrants to Israel at the cost of a couple hundred thousand dollars.
"We believe we will be able to make a very significant contribution to this endeavor," he said.
The International Christian Embassy plans to begin soliciting funds for the immigration at its annual Feast of the Tabernacles celebration in Jerusalem next month, assuming that the final government approval is through by then.
The event, which is expected to attract more than 5,000 Evangelicals from around the world, is the single largest tourism event in Jerusalem each year.
The evangelical organisation has been assisting Jewish immigration to Israel over the years based on their belief that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land was foretold in the Scriptures and heralds the return of the Messiah.