Aliya of Bnei Menashe converts approved [pg. 10]

Israel approved the aliya of 216 Bnei Menashe converts from India on Thursday, following an outcry from immigrant activists angered that they had been prevented from coming to the country. The fate of some 7,000 Bnei Menashe who remain in India still hangs in the balance, however, since the government has not yet determined its policy towards those who haven't undergone formal conversion. Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim said last month that he had ordered a freeze on any further conversions until a national policy is set. Thursday's decision was made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Boim in concert with Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, according to the ministry. Amar oversaw the conversion of the 216 now eligible for aliya. Boim had originally said that the Bnei Menashe converts wouldn't be able to come until the government decided its overall policy towards groups, like the Bnei Menashe, who have Jewish roots and have started to return to Judaism. Shavei Israel, an organization which encourages these populations to embrace Judaism, strongly criticized the obstacle that had been put in the way of the converts' coming to Israel, and had even threatened legal action. In its decision to grant aliya, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry noted that the converts were entitled to come to Israel under the Law of Return, which confers citizenship on anyone who has at least one Jewish grandparent or has converted to Judaism. Following the decision, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews announced that it was donating $1.5 million to help with their absorption. Around 1,000 Bnei Menashe, who claim descent from Jews exiled before the destruction of the First Temple, have come to Israel over the past decade. "Precisely in these days of security challenges, we must remember that immigrants strengthen us, militarily, demographically, socially and morally," said IFCJ head Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.