NEW YORK (Mar. 13)
Israeli Knesset member Mordechai Ben Porat (Telem) said yesterday that Israel was making every possible effort, including the use of diplomatic channels, to aid in the rescue of the Ethiopian Jewish community.
Speaking at a news conference in the offices of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC), Ben Porat said that since the establishment of the State of Israel some 5,500 Falashas have arrived in Israel, the bulk of them arriving during 1983.
Falashas who recently have arrived in Israel live in 17 absorption centers, five of which are student centers, according to Ben Porat, who is chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Ethiopian Jews which comprises representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Jewish Agency, the Foreign Ministry and the Knesset.
A VITAL ELEMENT TO ISRAELI SOCIETY
Ben Porat stressed that retaining the cultural heritage that the Falashas bring from Ethiopia is a central concern to the Israeli government and said the Falashas represented a “very vital element” to Israeli society. He noted that in the absorption centers, the Falashas are not isolated from other olim and are in contact with olim from Russia and other countries.
The Israeli official said he was encouraged by the Ethiopian government’s change in policy recently which now allows for visits to Falasha villages by American tourists and also those carrying Israeli passports. Ben Porat said he encourages tourists to Ethiopia to visit the Falashas.
Without specifically referring to any group, Ben Porat said he felt the rescue of Ethiopia’s 18,000 member Jewish community was best left to the Israeli government and said he opposed operations by untrained independent organizations who have worked independently of the Israeli efforts.
ORGANIZED EMIGRATION OF JEWS FROM IRAQ
Ben Porat, 61, was born in Baghdad, Iraq where he was a leader of a clandestine Zionist youth movement before arriving in Israel in 1945. He fought as a section leader of the Haganah in 1947 and later in the War of Independence. In 1949, he was sent to organize illegal emigration of Jews from Iraq and was a leader in “Operation Ezra and Nehemia” which resulted in the escape of over 120,000 Jews to Israel. During this mission, he was imprisoned and tortured, but escaped four times although two of his colleagues were hanged. He is founding co-chairman of the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries.
GOALS TO AID THE FALASHAS
The NJCRAC, which is the national coordinating and joint planning body of II national and III local Jewish community relations agencies, last month adopted at its 40th anniversary plenary session in Washington a series of goals to aid the Falashas.
The goals, as outlined by the NJCRAC, include the encouragement of tourism to Ethiopia to express solidarity with the Falashas; continued efforts to seek continued and expanded American emergency drought relief aid to Ethiopia and Africa; increased efforts to provide American Jewry with detailed information and interpretive resource materials on the plight of the Falashas; and a unified and coordinated approach “with the primary authority responsible for relief and rescue.”