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Jdl Stages Protests at Hias, Jewish Agency Offices, Claiming ‘lack of Action’ to Rescue Falashas

September 9, 1981
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Some 30 members of the Jewish Defense League took over the main offices of HIAS this afternoon and some 15 members chained the front doors of the building which houses the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization-American Section. Both actions, in different parts of Manhattan, were taken to protest “lack of action” to rescue Ethiopian Jews, Falashas, according to JDL director Arno Weinstein.

He said the JDL had presented two demands to the HIAS officials. One was that HIAS initiate an immediate rescue effort for the Falashas. The other was for HIAS to undertake, as a priority, to seek cooperation from Federations throughout the country for “an intensive awareness program” about the Falashas and thereby dramatize the “obligation” of American Jews to help them. Weinstein said the HIAS officials to whom the JDL members had talked to refused to consider either demand and that the officials were then “escorted” out of the office by the demonstrators.

Weinstein told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that a HIAS official, who he identified as Irving Haber, head of HIAS administration, finally accepted the two demands and that at that point the JDL members left the building peacefully. There had been a large number of police in front of the building but they were apparently under orders not to use force to remove the protestors.


Weinstein said Haber agreed that the first demand would be brought to the next meeting of the HIAS board and that he also agreed to the second demand to send communications to all Federations.

Haber, responding to inquiries by the JTA, said, in regard to the first demand, that HIAS had “always tried to do what we can for Ethiopian Jews and we have been helpful but, obviously, we cannot promote mass evacuation of Ethiopian Jews.” He said that issue was dropped at that point.

In regard to the second demand, Haber said he agreed to send a telegram to the Council of Jewish Federations and to four Federations, in which HIAS urged that an immediate program of awareness be initiated regarding the plight of Ethiopian Jews and the American Jewish obligation to help them.

He said he considered the demand that all 200 Federations be contacted was “ridiculous” and agreement was reached on sending telegrams to the four plus the CJF. He said the JDL demonstrators then left peacefully. He added that HIAS would not press any charges against them.

A spokesman at the Jewish Agency building said the demonstrators left after several hours and that the police had not been called. Charlotte Jacobson, chairwoman of the WZO-American Section, in a statement, said that “we do not need any demonstration to convince or persuade us of the importance of doing everything possible to save our Falasha brothers. We know and are confident that everything that can be done is being done to bring every Falasha we can save to Israel. It is very sad that these young and idealistic but misguided young people do not have more confidence in the leaders of Israel.”

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