Student Conference Criticizes Inaction on Ethiopian Jewry Issue

The International Jewish Students Conference on Ethiopian Jewry closed here Thursday with an urgent appeal to Jewish organizations all over the world to mount an intensive campaign for the right of Jews to leave Ethiopia.

The appeal was contained in “The Ashkelon Platform on Ethiopian Jewry,” which the participants signed after hearing some of the most scathing criticism ever voiced publicly of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for their handling of the twin problems of Jewish emigration from Ethiopia and the absorption of the immigrants after they arrive in Israel.

The conference, held in Ashkelon, moved to President Chaim Herzog’s residence in Jerusalem for its final session.

It was attended by more than 250 students from 20 countries, other leading figures from abroad, Israeli officials and representatives of the Ethiopian emigre community in Israel.

Ashkelon, a coastal city south of Tel Aviv, hosted the conference. Its mayor, Eli Dayan, pointed out that Ashkelon had been “the gateway for the aliyah of Ethiopian Jews during Operation Moses.”

“Operation Moses” was the code name given the clandestine movement of Jews from Ethiopia to Israel two years ago. Between November 1984 and March 1985, some 8,000 Jews trekked by foot from Ethiopia into neighboring Sudan from where they were flown, via Europe, to Israel under a secret agreement reached with the Sudanese authorities.

The operation was halted abruptly after leaks to the news media embarrassed the Sudanese government, which ended the flights.

Somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 Jews were left behind in Ethiopia. The figures were not exact because the last census taken in Ethiopia in 1976 is considered unreliable.

Many of the Ethiopian Jews who reached Israel have family members still in Ethiopia suffering from famine and harassment by the local authorities.

Mayor Dayan of Ashkelon, speaking at the conference, blasted government and Jewish Agency leaders for what he called their silence and inactivity on the issue.

Calling the absorption of Ethiopian Jewry in Israel a “disaster” and a “Zionist failure,” he said it was a “disgrace” that no members of the Cabinet or the Jewish Agency bothered to attend the gathering, which dealt with these problems.

But President Herzog told the conferees that “the government is in fact doing a great deal.”

Yosef Abramowitz, chairman of the World Union of Jewish Students, said “It is the responsibility of the Jewish student world to make Ethiopian Jewry an issue.”

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