NEW YORK (Feb. 17)
A state Department official said Monday that the prospects for the emigration of the some 9,000 Jews who still remain in Ethiopia are grim and that the situation is not likely to change in the near future.
“Ethiopian Jewry’s present situation is without prospects at all,” Princeton Lyman, United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, told the plenary session of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC) at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. “I do not anticipate any dramatic breakthrough in the situation” in the near future, he added.
Lyman explained that most of the emigration of Ethiopian Jews in the last few years, including the airlift known as “Operation Moses” which brought about 10,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel more than a year ago, took place through the Sudan.
But this is no longer possible since the removal of Sudan’s moderate, pro-Egyptian president Gaafar Nimeiry last spring and the establishment of a radical regime amidst political turmoil all over the country, Lyman said. He said that “Operation Moses” has become a major political issue in the Sudan, viewed by many Sudanese as an “insult to Sudan’s national honor.”
In view of this development, Lyman asserted, “it is impossible to conceive of the Sudan as a pathway for Ethiopian migration in the near future.”
A COMPLICATED SITUATION
The situation of Ethiopian Jews is complicated by the attitude of the military-Marxist-pro-Soviet government in Ethiopia, Lyman said. “The government objects to free Jewish emigration. They resent the attention of the international community to the Jews of Ethiopia. But at the same time they are sensitive to the international attention to the Jews,” he said.
Lyman said that relationships between the U.S. and Ethiopia are not good, and that makes it difficult on Washington to exert any influence on the issue of Ethiopian Jews.
According to Lyman, Ethiopian Jews were not hit by the terrible drought in that country, because the Gondar region where they live was not part of the drought area. He said, however, that they continue to live in “great poverty.”
Lyman said that despite the grim prospects for the emigration of Ethiopian Jews, efforts on their behalf must continue, including visits by American Jews to that country. “It is important to keep up activity and concern for the Jews of Ethiopia,” he concluded.
INTEGRATION INTO ISRAELI SOCIETY
Another speaker at the plenary session, which opened Sunday and will conclude Wednesday, was Chaim Aron, chairman of the Immigration and Absorption Department of the Jewish Agency, who focused on the problems of integrating Ethiopian Jews into the mainstream of Israel’s society. Apart from the problem of adjusting to a modern Western society, the Ethiopian community in Israel today has its unique problems, Aron said. He disclosed that about 40 percent of the community is of one-parent families of either a mother or a father with one child or more. He said many of the Ethiopians who came to Israel left their spouses or families behind. “One of the parents is missing or was lost on the way (to Israel),” he said.
Another problem, according to Aron, is that of leadership in the Ethiopian community. “They already have 12 different organizations,” and they cannot decide on one leader or organization to represent them, he said, adding: “The Ethiopians in Israel are very divided. They must unite in order to achieve their goals.”