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Plight of Ethiopian Jews

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Fact-finding missions to Ethiopia from the U.S. have a difficult time learning of the plight of the Falashas because the Ethiopian Jews are intimidated by the government, a Jew who escaped from Ethiopia last November asserted here today.

Simcha Desta, in a Capital Hill briefing for Congressional staff members, said that any meeting of Ethiopian Jews with foreign visitors are always infiltrated by government spies. In addition, he noted that if foreign visitors complain to the Ethiopian government about the treatment of Falashas, Ethiopian Jews are arrested after the foreigners leave.

Desta said Jews in Ethiopia are persecuted because of their religion. He said that while Christians are arrested for political reasons, Jews are arrested only for practicing their religion.

He said the Ethiopian government has closed synagogues and Jewish schools and has forbidden the teaching of Hebrew and the practice of Jewish religious tenets. He said that when a foreign group comes to Ethiopia, the synagogues are reopened and than closed as soon as the foreigners leave.

Desta was accompanied to the briefing by David Makovsky, president of the North American Jewish Students Network, and Seth Vogelman, chairperson of the Network’s National Ethiopian Jewry Task Force.

Makovsky, who was recently in Ethiopia with a group that included two Israelis, said they were able to have intimate conversations with the Falashas because all spoke Hebrew. But, he said, wherever he went he was accompanied by a guard carrying a Soviet-made Kalachnikov rifle.

URGES AMERICANS TO SPEAK UP

The briefing was scheduled today by Rep. Tom Lantos (D. Calif.) to arouse Congressional awareness of the plight of the Falashas. Lantos and Sen. Paul Tsongas (D. Mass.) have introduced concurrent resolutions in the House and Senate in support of Ethiopian Jewry.

Desta, who now lives in California with his wife and young daughter, said he was imprisoned and tortured for nine months for trying to escape with his family from Ethiopia. He said that when a Jew escapes from Ethiopia, his family and friends are tortured in reprisal.

The young Ethiopian Jew, who plans to immigrate to Israel soon, called on Americans to speak up for the rights of Ethiopian Jews. He also urged that U.S. Consular offices in Ethiopia and neighboring countries assist Ethiopian Jews in getting to the U.S., Israel or other “safe” countries.

He noted that President Reagan has authorized 3,000 refugee immigrants from Africa for 1983 and only 1,000 such visas have been used so far. He said many of these entry visas could be given to Ethiopian Jews.

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