The Forgotten Heroes of Ethiopian Jewry

April 28 2017

In his recent movie Heroes, the Israeli filmmaker Avishai Mekonen tells the story of the Ethiopian Jewish activists who campaigned for permission to leave for Israel, often risking the ire of their country’s brutal socialist regime, and worked to convince the Israeli government and American Jewry to help them emigrate. He discusses the film here. (Interview by Be’chol Lashon.)

[T]here is a whole part of the story [of Ethiopian Jewry] that is not well known, the story of the Ethiopian activists who held onto the dream of going to Jerusalem and made everything happen. . . . I want people to know the names of Yona Bogale, Gedalia Uria, Ester Hollander, and others. Some 440 Ethiopian activists and kessim [the local term for rabbis] were jailed in Ethiopia. So many risked their lives. For example, Ferede Aklum, . . . who endangered himself to find escape routes for the community from Ethiopia [to Israel] through Sudan, and worked with the Mossad.

These activists had no money, no guides, no equipment. They had a dream and they made it happen. Many of these people were put in jail for days or months because leaving Ethiopia was illegal. They were beaten and tortured. Some died in jail. Those who were released did not give up. These people were true heroes.

Yona Bogale was the first Ethiopian to reach out to the west and explain the danger the Beta Israel experienced. In the 1950s, he sent young Ethiopians to Israel to learn Hebrew, English, math, and science. Those students became leaders [of Ethiopian] Jewry who could communicate [with people in Israel, the U.S., and elsewhere].

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More about: Ethiopian Jews, Film, History & Ideas, Israeli history

At the UN, Nikki Haley Told the Truth about Israel—and the World Didn’t Burn Down

April 22 2019

Although Nikki Haley had never been to Israel when she took the position of American ambassador to the UN, and had no prior foreign-policy experience, she distinguished herself as one of the most capable and vigorous defenders of the Jewish state ever to hold the position. Jon Lerner, who served as Haley’s deputy during her ambassadorship, sees the key to her success—regarding both Israel and many other matters—in her refusal to abide by the polite fictions that the institution holds sacred:

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows [the U.S.] to sustain [its] relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted, and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that had pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades. . . .

[For instance], U.S. presidents were intimidated by the argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would trigger violent explosions throughout the Muslim world. President Trump and key colleagues doubted this, and they turned out to be right. Violent reaction in the Palestinian territories was limited, and there was virtually none elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. . . .

It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests like opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows like the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Even if future U.S. administrations revert to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproved. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure.

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More about: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, United Nations, US-Israel relations