Head of Conference of Presidents Praises U.S. on Aiding Ethiopian Jews

Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said this week that the Bush administration has been instrumental in maintaining the emigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and that he believed the rate of emigration would soon be increased.

“We understand that the administration has advised Ethiopia that Ethiopian Jews are the highest of priorities for the United States,” Reich said. “That, we believe, has been very helpful in helping to resolve this issue.”

Reich said this message was delivered by the administration to Ethiopian foreign minister Tesfaye Dinka, who visited Washington on July 26 and met with Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.

The meeting was a coup for the Ethiopians. Their Marxist, hard-line dictatorship under Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, currently under siege by rebel forces, has few friends in the Bush administration and they have had difficulty in the past gaining high-level meetings in Washington.

Tesfaye’s visit took place at a time when the American Jewish community was deeply concerned over the temporary halt of Ethiopian Jews going to Israel at the rate of 500 per month.

There was a great deal of speculation at the time that the government was holding the Jews hostage in exchange for Israeli military assistance, though Tesfaye denied such a linkage during remarks at a news conference.

Reich confirmed, however, that “the Ethiopian government was putting a lot of pressure on Israel and Israel could not meet the needs that were being requested by Ethiopia.”

On the same day as Tesfaye’s meeting with Eagleburger, Reich met with White House officials and Herman Cohen, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, to discuss the issues at hand.

After those meetings, and observing the progress of the past week, Reich expressed confidence that the rate of emigration for Ethiopian Jews would increase.

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