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Restoration of Ties with Ethiopia Raises Hope of New Exodus of Jews

November 6, 1989
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Israelis were surprised and pleased over the weekend by Ethiopia’s sudden decision to restore diplomatic ties with Israel, which it broke 16 years ago.

Attention focused immediately on the estimated 18,000 Jews still living in Ethiopia and the chances of their speedy departure for Israel.

The unexpected announcement Friday in Addis Ababa followed a meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and his Ethiopian counterpart at United Nations headquarters in New York several weeks ago.

The decision was conveyed Friday morning to Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Yohanan Bein, by the Ethiopian ambassador.

In New York, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations immediately welcomed the step, saying it “can only benefit both countries and the cause of international peace.”

The conference expressed hope that the detente would expedite the reunification of Ethiopian Jews with their families in Israel.

Ethiopia severed diplomatic ties with Israel, as did all but four African countries, in October 1973, as a gesture of solidarity with Egypt in the Yom Kippur War.

It is the 11th country to restore them. Knowledgeable sources ascribe the decision to increasing pressures on the Addis Ababa government from various insurgencies.

They say the Ethiopian president, Col. Mengistu Haile. Mariam, has been adopting an increasingly pro-Western stance in hope of winning economic support and logistical assistance in his civil war.


The Ethiopian emigre community in Jerusalem was jubilant at the news Sunday. But its leaders urged the Israeli government to make any further progress in bilateral relations with Ethiopia contingent upon the exodus of Jews remaining there.

Informed sources said such an exodus would get under way only gradually and without fanfare. They do not expect a policy statement on this issue by the Ethiopian government, which, they note, has close ties with many Arab countries.

Nevertheless, the head of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration and Absorption Department, Uri Gordon, said Saturday that new absorption centers would be needed to house the expected stream of immigrants.

The Ethiopian influx would coincide with a flood of Jews from the Soviet Union, if present expectations materialize.

The government and Jewish Agency have agreed on a joint $2 billion program to absorb Jews from the Soviet Union. Additional monies obviously will need to be found for the Ethiopian newcomers.

The Organization of Ethiopian Immigrants here has been pressuring the government to help their families still in Ethiopia, most of them in the war-torn Gondar region.

Only two weeks ago, the organization published an open letter to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir charging that Israel was doing nothing while their brethren were being oppressed.

The organization claimed that about 25 percent of the Jews remaining in Ethiopia have been killed in pogroms and that hundreds of men have been forcibly recruited into the army, leaving their families without any source of income.

There are about 16,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel at present. All but a handful arrived during the winter of 1984-85 in a series of clandestine airlifts that eventually became known as “Operation Moses.”

Many young Ethiopians who made it to Israel arrived without their immediate families. About 30 percent of the Ethiopian families here have only one parent. According to exerts, their anxiety over their parents’ fate has made it difficult for them to adjust to Israeli life.

Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency Executive, expressed hope Saturday that the resumption of Israeli diplomatic ties with Ethiopia “will end the human tragedy that split families and tore parents from their children.”

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