CJF Assembly Opening Disrupted by Demonstration for Ethiopian Jews

The opening plenary of the 53rd General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations was completely disrupted last night by 40 protestors demonstrating on behalf of Ethiopian Jewry.

Over chants of “Let Simcha Speak,” a reference to Simcha Jacoboyici, producer and director of the award-winning film, “Falasha,” Martin Citrin, CJF president, was forced to adjourn the session before it began. Citrin’s action came after more than half an hour of uproar that erupted as 2,000 delegates arrived for the plenary that was to have dealt with prospects and challenges of Federation work in the coming period.

Led by Jacobovici, the demonstrators marched in front of the dais in the glare of TV cameras for the national networks, obviously alerted to be there. The demonstrators carried placards reading “Action Now” and “More Can Be Done” and pictures of starving Ethiopian Jewish children. More than one-quarter of the group was Falashas, including several women and children — one a tiny girl in Jacobovici’s arms.

DEMAND JACOBOVICI SPEAK TO CJF

They demanded a minute of silence for the 2,000 Ethiopian Jews they said had died during the current famine, and the right for Jacobovici to address the full plenary for five minutes.

CJF president-elect Shoshana Cardin, session chairperson, first protested that their concerns would be dealt with at a forum on Ethiopian Jewry following the plenary and then threatened to have them removed.

Metropolitan Toronto chairman Dennis Flynn — who had come to bring greetings from the city government — attempted to cool off the demonstration by announcing a minute of silence. Shouting Flynn down, the demonstrators insisted that Jacobovicibe allowed to speak. They then linked arms and sat on the floor, Jacobovici with the child still in his arms.

“We are delegates here,” Jacobovici insisted. “You have no right to refuse us five minutes of convention time for 2,000 dead. We don’t want a special forum. We want now.”

As tempers rose, plainclothes policemen joined hotel security guards around the group and 40 uniformed policemen appeared outside the doors of the grand ballroom where the plenary was taking place.

Attempts by Cardin and Citrin to reach a compromise by offering the podium to ether Moshe Ronen, North American president of the National Jewish Student’s Network, or Naomi Jacobs, Canadian Network president — but not to Jacobovici — were rejected by the demonstrators. Both Ronen and Jacobs turned down the offer to speak.

Finally, Citrin adjourned the plenary and the microphones were disconnected. As Jacobovici climbed on a chair to speak, shouting matches broke out all over the hall. Ronen said he had refused to address the session because Network had not organized the demonstration.

“Much of the effort was made by CAJE (the Canadian Association For Jews in Ethiopia), and their spokesman is Simcha Jacobovici,” Ronen said. “I don’t sympathize with their actions (in carrying the demonstration this far) but I sympathize with their cause. I think this issue should have a much higher priority.” Jacobs, visibly tense, refused to comment.

CJF EFFORT STRESSED

Cardin said that Jacobovici was not offered the platform because “I don’t think that at this point he would have held to the five minutes. We wanted someone we could rely on.” She said the protesters were not forcibly removed because of the women and children among them.

“We are doing the maximum we can (to rescue Falashas) without jeopardizing anyone,” Cardin insisted. “But we cannot discuss what we are doing.”

According to Josef Enyev, one of the demonstrators and a Falasha who left Ethiopia three years ago via Sudan, protests cannot harm his people. “They are already endangered,” he said. “They are already dying. I think publicity is necessary. It is the responsibility of world Jewry to save the Falashas. We have a right to be saved.”

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