NEW YORK (Apr. 30)
Israel has begun preparing for the possible mass immigration of 17,000 Ethiopian Jews, as negotiations over their fate continue.
But American Jewish officials stress that speculation in Israel about an agreement to expedite the emigration of Jews from Ethiopia is premature and inaccurate.
The emergency arises from the possibility that rebel forces, which have scored major military successes in recent weeks, will soon overthrow the regime of President Mengistu Haile Mariam and enter the capital.
Ethiopian immigrants in Israel who have contacted Addis Ababa by telephone said the Jews there fear that if the rebels take over, they may well put an end to Jewish emigration.
Ethiopian emigre groups in Israel say the rebels would not necessarily harm the Jews, but their victory could cause chaos in the capital, leading to general bloodshed.
The Israeli Embassy in Addis Ababa and Jewish Agency representatives there have given assurances that Israel will not desert the Jews.
According to reports from Israel, the ministerial committee on immigrant absorption was scheduled to discuss the situation on Wednesday.
It was most likely to hear a report from Arnon Mantver, director general of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration and Absorption Department, who has just returned from Addis Ababa, where he was sent to assess the situation firsthand.
The Jewish Agency and Israel’s Foreign Ministry were said to be awaiting word of the outcome of talks former U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz held in the Ethiopian capital last weekend with Mengistu.
PLANELOAD EXPECTED THIS WEEK
President Bush sent the Minnesota Republican to Addis Ababa last Friday as his personal emissary to expedite the departure of Jews for Israel. Boschwitz was expected to report to the president on his mission by early next week.
There were unconfirmed reports that the United States was offering Mengistu political asylum in the event of a rebel victory.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he was hopeful that the outcome of negotiations currently under way would be positive.
But he stressed that negotiations were at an early stage and added, “Speculation when 18,000 lives are at stake is irresponsible.”
Meanwhile, the Jewish Agency still expects about 250 Ethiopian olim to arrive in Israel by the end of the week, the normal number of weekly arrivals since January.
But preparations are being made for a sudden, much larger influx. Israel’s Absorption Ministry reportedly has engaged 3,000 motel rooms to house the Ethiopians temporarily.
About 11 hotels in Tiberias, a resort city on Lake Kinneret, have reportedly signed up with the Amidar housing company to provide quarters for the immigrants.