According to the Prime Minister's Office, the immigrants will arrive in Israel some time in January on a special flight being organized by the Shavei Israel organization, and will be greeted by Olmert himself in a festive ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Bnei Menashe lead an observant Jewish lifestyle but do not qualify to immigrate under Israel's Law of Return. In order for them to do so, special permission from the government is required.
In the past 15 years, some 1,500 members of the community have made aliyah, thanks largely to the Shavei Israel organization. Another 7,200 Bnei Menashe members still reside in India.
Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund approached Olmert recently and requested special permission for 23 Bnei Menashe families to make aliyah. These are the relatives of community members who previously moved to the Jewish state.
Group photo of olim (courtesy of Shavei Israel organization)
A week ago, Olmert decided to accede to Freund's request and issued a directive to bring between 15 and 20 families to Israel. This was passed along to Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, who gave his consent on condition that the immigrants would undergo a formal return to Judaism once in Israel.
In recent months, the government has been considering whether to allow all the remaining members of the community still in India to make aliyah to Israel.
In the government there is widespread support for the move to bring them here, and among those backing the idea are Olmert's adviser Avi Viderman, as well as senior officials in the Absorption, Finance and Interior ministries.