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Flow of Ethiopian Jews to Israel Was Halted, but Reason is Unclear

The emigration of Ethiopian Jews bound for Israel, which had been proceeding since last fall at a rate of about 500 a month, has been halted in recent weeks, Israeli officials have confirmed.

The suspension comes at a time when thousands of Ethiopian Jews have piled into the capital city of Addis Ababa, hoping to receive permission to join family and friends in Israel.

The vast majority of the Jews left in Ethiopia — as many as 15,000 people — are now living in miserable conditions in Addis Ababa.

They have poured into the capital from their native Gondar region in recent months, as fighting between the government of Mengistu Haile Mariam and rebel armies has shifted, making roads to the capital passable.

The emigration of Ethiopian Jews has accelerated since November, when Israel and Ethiopia restored diplomatic ties and signed an agreement allowing for reunification of families on a humanitarian basis.

The reason for the recent suspension of the emigration is unclear, but three main explanations have been offered.

The most straightforward reason for the slowdown is that Mengistu wished to avoid embarrassment during the meeting of the Organization of African Unity, which was held last week in Addis Ababa.

Israeli and American Jewish officials say Mengistu may have feared incurring the wrath of the hundreds of hard-line, anti-Israel African leaders who arrived in the city for the meeting. They say it would have been difficult for him to hide the exodus to Israel.

CONCERN ABOUT NON-JEWS

A second explanation for the suspension is rising concern among both Mengistu and Israeli officials that non-Jews are using the Israeli channel as a way of escaping Ethiopia.

Meir Joffe, Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia, was quoted by The New York Times as saying that Israel had been “alarmed” by the fact that non-Jews were attempting to immigrate to Israel.

Joffe was quoted as saying the decision to halt the emigration was made jointly by the Ethiopian and Israeli governments.

But William Recant, director of the American Association for Ethiopian Jews, one of the relief agencies caring for the Ethiopian Jews in Addis Ababa, said he did not believe Israel had anything to do with suspending the flow of emigres.

“This is not consistent with what we have been told in the past,” Recant said Sunday. He said Israeli officials were aware that the screening process for prospective immigrants “has been a careful one.”

The third and most troublesome explanation for a halt in emigration is that the Ethiopian Jews are being held hostage to Mengistu’s demands for Israeli military equipment.

It has been widely reported in the Israeli and American press that Mengistu traveled to Israel on July 4 and 5 to meet with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and request weapons from the Israelis, in order to prop up his embattled regime.

The Israelis have long been caught between the Ethiopian dictator’s linkage of military cooperation to Jewish emigration, on the one hand, and the U.S. government’s revulsion at the massive casualties Mengistu’s regime has been inflicting on the civilian populations of areas controlled by rebel forces.

The Washington Jewish Week reported last week that Israel had sold cluster bombs to Ethiopia as recently as last year and provided military expertise to forces protecting Mengistu.

The paper cited a memorandum, based on information from the Pentagon, that was written in February by J. Stephen Morrison, a staff member of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa.

According to the Washington Jewish Week, the congressional memo alleges that Israel provided Ethiopia with 100 cluster bombs in 1989, possibly through Argentina and Chile, and that 10 to 20 Israeli military advisers participated in training members of Mengistu’s elite Palace Guard.

It also said that Ethiopia had pressed Israel to provide more cluster bombs, but that the Israelis had deferred because of U.S. pressure.

CLUSTER BOMB SALES DENIED

But that report was disputed by Israeli officials and pro-Israeli groups in Washington.

The Israeli Embassy spokeswoman, Ruth Yaron, denied Friday that Israel had sold cluster bombs to Ethiopia and said there had not been “military cooperation between Ethiopia and Israel.”

And, according to a pro-Israel lobbyist, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has received assurances from top Pentagon officials and Herman Cohen, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, that the United States does not believe that Israel supplied cluster bombs to Ethiopia.

Recant of AAEJ said he had received similar assurances.

Another pro-Israel lobbyist said he “believed Israel would not be “stupid enough” to have supplied cluster bombs to Ethiopia that were made with U.S. technology.

That would directly violate U.S. law and could lead to an end to U.S. foreign aid.

But the lobbyist said Israel could have supplied cluster bombs that it made “independent of U.S. technology.” Israel apparently began work on its own cluster bomb, after the United States suspended cluster bomb sales to Israel in 1982.

The lobbyist pointed out that one of Israel’s main purposes in Ethiopia “is to get Jews out of situations in danger and into Israel. They will do just about anything within the bounds of the real world. And I didn’t say in good taste or good government.”

The sale of cluster bombs is of particular U.S. concern, because of the large numbers of civilian casualties they are capable of causing. Cluster bombs contain a number of smaller bombs that are scattered over a wide area, dramatically expanding the range of a conventional bomb.

(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)

Marcus said his concern is that Canada is making it too easy for alleged war criminals to visit this country.

“What’s to stop the other 30 people that the U.S. has deported from coming here also?” Marcus said.

In a related development Wednesday, immigration official Milton Best announced that plans are under way to charge Lufthansa airlines for ignoring an alert to stop Rudolph from boarding airliners bound for Canada.

If the charge is laid, Lufthansa will face a $5,000 fine and will have to take Rudolph back to West Germany if he is deported.

“We are vindicated in terms of our claim that somebody goofed at the point of his embarkation in Germany,” CJC spokesman Prutschi said of this announcement.

On Wednesday, the CJC called on the Canadian government to launch an investigation as to why Rudolph was allowed to board the plane to Canada when the Royal Canadian Mountain Police had issued an alert to all airlines to prevent this from happening.

The CJC is also protesting the fact that Rudolph was allowed to go free upon his arrival while posting a $500 (Canadian) bond.

“If he had been detained, he wouldn’t have been able to run around and hold press conferences and he might have returned to Germany,” Prutschi said.

In a letter to Minister of Employment and Immigration Barbara McDougall on Tuesday, CJC President Les Scheininger wrote, “It is galling to us that solicitousness is being shown for the alleged frailty of an elderly Nazi when he never remotely was concerned for the fragility of the slave laborers under his care and direction.”

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