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May 31, 1991 - Image 26

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-05-31

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

OPERATION

SOLOMON

In Washington, Secrecy
And Cooperation

Jewish organizations, the White House
and a former U.S. senator helped
Operation Solomon take wing.

JAMES D. BESSER

Washington Correspondent

F

or weeks, it had been
an open secret among
Israel's friends in
Washington: something was
in the works to save Ethio-
pia's Jewish population in
increased peril as Ethiopia's
long civil war neared a
violent conclusion.
As the government of
Mengistu Haile Mariam tot-
tered at the edge of collapse

and then fell, the sense of
expectation was heightened
— and yet, the restraint
among Jewish activists,
reporters and members of
Congress held firm until the
news of the airlift broke in
Washington late Friday.
This time, there were no
damaging leaks, unlike 1985
when an airlift of Ethiopian
Jews was halted after word
of the secret mission made it
into print.
The delicate negotiations
that resulted in the agree-

Journalistic Ethics
And Operation Solomon

As the groundwork for
last week's dramatic res-
cue of Ethiopian Jews was
put in place over the past
few months, reporters
covering the Jewish scene
in Washington were faced
with a difficult dilemma.
Several weeks ago, it
became apparent that
Israel was in the advanc-
ed stages of planning an
airlift to rescue thousands
of stranded Ethiopian
Jews.
The time of the proposed
operation was not known
until last week, but the
rough .outlines of the
operation became known
— along with the fact that
American Jewish organ-
izations were playing a
significant role in the
planning process.
No reporter revealed
the details of what
became Operation
Solomon.
Why this burst of jour-
nalistic restraint?
"I think we were able to
make the case that pre-
mature stories about this

26 FRIDAY, MAY 31, 1991

process could jeopardize
the entire rescue effort,"
said William Recant of
the American Association
for Ethiopian Jews. "It
was pretty clear to us that
lives would be jeopardized
if any of this appeared in
the newspapers," said the
executive director.
Another factor may
have been the memory of
what happened in 1985,
when the Operation
Moses rescue had to be
closed down after it was
publicized in the press,
first in Israel and then in
the U.S. There were bitter
recriminations about
whether the blame was
with Israeli officials, who
spoke to Jewish audiences
of the "secret" rescue
mission, or with the press.
In any event, several
reporters — including this
one — pieced together the
outlines of the Operation
Solomon story, but held
back because of these con-
cerns. ❑

— James D. Besser

ment to release the Ethiopi-
an Jews mostly involved
Israeli and Ethiopian offi-
cials. But the process receiv-
ed several critical boosts
from the White House and
its special representative to
Ethiopia, former Sen. Rudy
Boschwitz.
In the end, it was Wash-
ington's threat to postpone
the peace talks (that began
Monday in London) until a
resolution of the Ethiopian
Jewry situation that broke
the long impasse.
Last week's airlift was in
the works since March, ac-
cording to Jewish activists.
"The Israelis had been ne-
gotiating bilaterally with
the Ethiopians at the top
levels for the last couple of
months," said William Re-
cant, director of the Ameri-
can Association for Ethiopi-
an Jews (AAEJ), a Washing-
ton-based group.
"And the United States,
which has been interested in
a peaceful resolution to the
conflict and in famine relief
in Ethiopia, as well as fami-
ly reunification for Ethiopi-
an Jews, has made represen-

This time, there
were no damaging
leaks, unlike 1985
when an airlift of
Ethiopian Jews
was halted after
word of the secret
mission made it
into print.

tations on the subject every
time they talked to the Ethi-
opians."
In recent months, as the
situation in Ethiopia de-
teriorated, the administra-
tion followed Israel's lead
and picked up the pace of its
efforts.
A number of Jewish
groups also became closely
involved in the unfolding
drama.

Large Israeli planes were filled to twice their normal seating
capacity for the three-and-a-half hour flights from Ethiopia to
Israel.

A working committee was
created, which included
representatives of a number
of Jewish "defense" agencies
— the Council of Jewish
Federations, several Ethio-
pian Jewry groups, the
American Joint Distribution
Committee, and the Con-
ference of Presidents of
Major American Jewish
Organizations.
The JDC, which was wide-
ly praised for its role both
here and in Ethiopia, coor-
dinated the overall effort.
The Presidents' Conference
served to coordinate the po-
litical end of the operation in
Washington, and in par-
ticular to keep the ad-
ministration focused on the
worsening plight of Ethiopi-
a's Jews.

According to knowl-
edgeable sources, it was
Shoshana Cardin, chair of
the Presidents' Conference,
and Malcolm Hoenlein, the
group's executive director,
who broached the idea of ap-
pointing Mr. Boschwitz as a
presidential emissary in
several meetings with Na-
tional Security Adviser
Brent Scowcroft.
Initially, there was strong
resistance within the ad-
ministration to the ap-
pointment of a personal
emissary; there was concern
that such an appointment
would send an incorrect
message to Mengistu or to
the rebel leadership.
But the idea of Mr.
Boschwitz as a personal
emissary appealed to the

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