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January 11, 1985 - Image 16

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-01-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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'

16

Friday, January 11, 1985

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

THE UNRAVELING
OF A SECRET

Too much publicity ended 'Operation Moses.'
Here's how it happened and who's to blame.

BY GARY ROSENBLATT

Editor

g

peration Moses"
is a story of
great Israeli
bravery and skill in rescuing
thousands of Ethiopan Jews
and an equal amount of clum-
siness and naivete on the part
of Jerusalem in failing to
keep the mission a secret.
Following is a report on
how the "top-secret" airlift
resulted in headlines around
the world, ultimately leading
to the end — at least tem-
porarily — of the rescue effort
that began on Thanksgiving
Day.
Less than two weeks be-
fore, Leon Dulzin, the chair-
man of the Jewish Agency in
Israel, which oversees im-
migration, came to Toronto
for the General Assembly of
the Council of Jewish Federa-
tion, the major annual forum
for Jewish communal affairs.
The issue of Ethiopian Jewry
was the hot topic of the G.A.,
and indeed the opening plen-
ary. session was disrupted
when a small group of young
activists protested against
Israel and the Jewish com-
munity's alleged failure to do
enough to rescue Ethiopian
Jews over the last few years.
Carrying signs reading "Ac-
tion Now" and "More Can Be
Done," the shouting pro-
testors, led by Simcha
Jacobovici, an outspoken ac-
tivist, disrupted the session
and forced its cancellation.
The clash underscored a
lont-time feud between ac-
tivist groups, maintaining
that Israel has not done all it

a S Cu q . ■ 1!!

x111111111115 .

could to rescue Ethiopian
Jewry, and Israeli and Amer-
ican Jewish leaders insisting
that Israel has made heroic —
and successful — efforts over
the last five years resulting in
the settlement of some 7,000
Ethiopian Jews in Israel.
For Dulzin, being attacked
for inaction on the eve of a
major rescue mission must
have been the height of
frustration. Perhaps that ex-
plains why he subsequently
alluded to the airlift, telling
the delegates that "one of the
ancient tribes of Israel is
soon due to return to its
homeland" and that the
rescue would make the fa-
mous Entebbe operation of
1976 look simple by com-
parison. During an interview
in his suite, Dulzin surprised
me and the two other Jewish
journalists present by elab-
orating on the planned mis-
sion and promising that
within a few months the
Ethiopian Jewry problem will
be solved forever. He did say
that his remarks were "off
the record."
But keeping a secret
among 2,000 Jewish leaders,
lay and professional, from
across the U.S. and Canada is
impossible. Many returned to
their communities and re-
ported the imminent news to
friends, colleagues and con-
gregants.
Amerian Jewish fund-rais-
ing institutions were being
asked to raise some $80
million to underwrite the cost
of the rescue. Federations

across the country were tax-
ed an additional ten percent
of their annual campaign
total and they had to get the
message to the community
without going public. They
did this through parlor
meetings and private conver-
sations, describing the rescue
effort in general terms and
concentrating on the need for
immediate funds to resettle
the Ethiopian Jews in Israel.
Leon Dulzin spoke in New
York just before Thanksgiv-
ing to the World Zionist
Organization-American Sec-
tion Executive and said that
while he was not prepared to
discuss it publicly, prepara-
tions were already under way
in Israel "for a sudden jump in
immigration — far beyond the
figures we projected for this
and the coming year." The
public relations office of the
WZO in New York issued a
press release to this effect,
summarizing Dulzin's corn-
ents and sending them out to
their regular mailing list, in-
cluding scores of Jewish
newspapers.
The editors of the New
York Jewish Week, an in-
dependent newspaper heavi-
ly subsidized by the local
UJA-Federation, took the
WZO press release and made
it the framework for a front
page lead story, headlined
"Reveal plan for rescue of
Falashas: Israel prepares for
absorption of thousands of
Ethiopian Jews."
The Jewish Week em-
phasized a Dulzin quote that

had been less prominent in
the WZO press release stat-
ing that "When the true
story of the Jews of Ethiopia
is told, we will take pride in
what we have already achiev-
ed in this most difficult and
complex rescue operation. At
the same time, a huge task
confronts us."
Shock waves went out
through the organized Jewish
community at the publication
of the Jewish Week story, the
first public disclosure of the
secret mission. The State
Department, which had been
instrumental in cooperating
with Israel on behalf of the
rescue effort, complained to
Jerusalem about Dulzin's
leaking information concern-
ing the mission.
A WZO public relations of-
ficial told The Detroit
Jewish News this week that
he blamed the Jewish Week
for "acting irresponsibly in
extrapolating" the WZO
press release and "playing it
into a big story." But David
Gross, editor of the Jewish
Week responded that he had
"no misgivings" about runn-
ing the story because it had
been "sent out by the WZO."
The initial fear • that the
Jewish Week story would
lead to more press coverage
eased when all was quiet for
two weeks.
Meanwhile, the New York
Times and several other ma-
jor news organizations, aware
of the rescue, were asked to
embargo, or hold off, the
story until the operation was
completed because it was a
life-and-death situation, with
thousands of Ethiopian Jews
and a number of Israelis risk-
ing their lives. The Times and
other news services agreed to
the embargo for
humanitarian reasons.
But two weeks later, on
December 6, the Washington
Jewish Week, an independent
paper not affiliated with the
New York paper of the same
name, ran a front-page story
on the rescue, despite pleas
from officials of the Israeli
Embassy in Washington and
several national Jewish
organizations not to jeopar-
dize Jewish lives by going
public. "You'll have blood on
your hands," one official
warned Charles Fenyvesi, the
editor of the Was_hington
1 Jewish Week,
in a phone
conversation prior to the
publication of the article,
headlined "The Ethiopian
exodus has begun." But in
an editorial, the Washing-
ton Jewish Week defend-

ed its position, noting that
"it is hard to contain our joy"
in reporting the news that the
rescue was under way. The
editorial added that "The
story is already known to too
many people. It is only a mat-
ter of days before the press
will come out with the
dramatic details."
That is exactly what hap-
pened. On Monday, Decem-
ber 10, the New York Times
ran a front-page story on the
rescue, citing the Washing-
ton Jewish Week article. The
Times story had no by-line
but was written by Bernard
Gewirtzman of the
Washington bureau.
"When Bernie saw that the
Washington Jewish Week
had gone public with the
story, he felt that the em-
bargo was off and that the
Times had license to go with
its own story," according to
a Washington journalist
friendly with Gewirtzman.
(Gewirtzman was in Geneva
this week and unavailable for
comment.)
The Times story said that
despite calls for secrecy, "ar-
ticles have appeared in the
Jewish press." It specifically
mentioned the Washington
Jewish Week story.
"It's highly unusual for the
Times to attribute 'scoops' to
smaller papers," noted an
editor of the Columbia Jour-
nalism Review, who told
The Detroit Jewish News that
"it certainly sounds like
Gewirtzman was trying to
justify his going public with
the story by citing the Wash-
ington Jewish paper."
The New York Times story
appeared on its wire service
and was picked up by a
number of major dailies
around the country. From
then on, efforts to contain
the story — and allow the
rescue mission to continue —
were an uphill, and ultimate-
ly losing, battle.
Time and Newsweek began
researching stories on the
airlift. (Their stories appeared
this week.) ABC-TV had foot-
age of Ethiopian Jews in
Israel and was ready to air it,
though the network agreed to
pleas to hold off for several
weeks.
Meanwhile, the Israeli
press, which had agreed to
the government's request to
embargo all rescue stories un-
til after the operation was
complete — and even to
withhold reporting of foreign
press articles about the airlift
— grew increasingly bitter
and frustrated. They felt they

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