Ethiopian Appealing to UJA Leadership
NEW YORK — An Ethiopian Jewish leader wants to show UJA-federation leaders the remains of burned-down huts, as part of his appeal to American Jewry to help those still in Ethiopia who want to go to Israel.
On a mission to America, the coordinator of South Wing to Zion, Avraham Neguise, is contacting leaders of Jewish organizations and seeking a place on the agenda of the quarterly meeting of the Council of Jewish Federations, to be held in Washington on September 13 to 15. Mr. Neguise said he wants to Federal Express in pieces of burnt Ethiopian huts, as evidence of anti-Jewish pogroms for display at that meeting.
Mr. Neguise, who emigrated to Israel from Ethiopia in 1985, comes to America with complaints that the Israeli government has curtailed efforts to help Jews who remain in Ethiopia. He says the Israelis have requested that the Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency do the same — requests, he says, that have been heeded by the relief and rescue agencies. Mr. Neguise’s plea to speak at the Council of Jewish Federations-United Jewish Appeal’s meeting, during which the topic of how to fund overseas Jewish needs is certain to draw heated debate.
“If the [Joint Distribution Committee] is not interested to help the Jews in Addis Ababa, I call on the American Jewish community to establish an alternative to raise funds,” Mr. Neguise said, estimating that there are 7,200 in Ethiopia’s capital, 4,226 in Gondar City and between 3,000 and 4,000 scattered throughout the Kwara region. “The JDC, instead of helping these people and giving assistance, are abandoning them, and transferring [resources to] programs in Russia…. It’s clear discrimination as I see it,” Mr. Neguise said.
At issue is the Jewish identity of those remaining, known as the Falas Mura. Mr. Neguise said these people should be recognized as Jews because they are discriminated against as Jews, and because regardless of their ancestors’ decisions to convert out of Judaism, they are now living as Jews.
In a letter addressed to the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry dated May 18, the director-general of the Israeli prime minister’s office, Moshe Lion, wrote that the process of helping Ethiopians make aliya was “progressing at a satisfactory rate,” and that the aliya would soon conclude. “I would like to emphasize that the government of Israel is not interested in the activities of the voluntary organizations in northern Ethiopia in any matters regarding aliya to Israel. This subject is the responsibility of the government of Israel, which has the exclusive right to decide on the methods of dealing with this issue,” Mr. Lion wrote.
An Ethiopian-Jewry expert who recently conducted an independent investigation in Ethiopia, Yosef Abramowitz, said: “I found a pattern of violence against the Falas Mura and Kwara Jews. I found reprehensible living conditions both up north and in the capital city, and I found a community that can demonstrate, if given the opportunity, that most of them have first-degree relatives in Israel and therefore are deserving of assistance.”
The president of the UJA, Richard Wexler, said he advised Mr. Neguise to approach the staffers responsible for the schedule of the quarterly meeting, but that if there is not room on the agenda, then he wants them to know that “I and others would be speaking to an issue of the highest priority to the North American Jewish community: the issue of rescue of Jews who are in terrible jeopardy.” Mr. Wexler said: “I told him that North American Jewry was extremely concerned with the situation of those Jews remaining in Ethiopia. We’ve made clear those concerns to the Israeli government in vivid ways. Most of the federation executives and presidents attending this meeting do come to the meeting fully aware” of the situation.
The president of the Council of Jewish Federations, Dr. Conrad Giles, said Mr. Neguise’s request has not come across his desk and that the schedule for the meeting is “very, very, very tight.”