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May 27, 2021 12:33 pm

Ethiopian Jews and the Elephant in the Anti-Israel Room

avatar by Seth Frantzman


IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi meets with Ethiopian-Israeli officers, July 28, 2019. Photo: Courtesy.

Thirty years ago, Israel carried out a momentous operation to bring Jews from Ethiopia to Israel.

In an unprecedented act, more than 30 aircraft brought 14,325 people to Israel in just 36 hours. The Israeli Defense Ministry recently released video footage from the operations, and recordings that include Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who was then commanding the elite Shaldag unit.

He recalls how complex the operation was, and the struggle that it would take to help Ethiopian Jews integrate into Israeli society.  He recalled, “after I returned and it was all over the news, my mother, who is a Holocaust survivor from Bergen-Belsen said to me, ‘are you aware of the honor this is?’ Do you know what kind of honor this is?’”

The story is inspirational. And it built on Israel’s attempts to help save Jews who were leaving Ethiopia in the 1980s via Sudan, a deadly and perilous journey in which thousands died. A new documentary on Israel’s Kan TV channel has also looked back at the operation. Close cooperation with the United States made the Israeli effort possible.

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The need to aid, support, and rescue Jews from Ethiopia came in the wake of some of the high points of the struggle to free Soviet Jewry that had also united Jews around the world.

The struggle to help Jews from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia were transformative events. This week, those who were young reporters and volunteers have been posting their memories.

But there is a flip side to this. While those who remember the struggles to help Jews in Ethiopia or the Soviet Union were defined by it and never forgot what it means to have an Israel that can help Jewish refugees, others have neglected this part of Israel’s story.

Extreme anti-Israel activists who emerged over the last weeks during the Gaza war are ignorant of the recent history of Jewish refugees.

One anti-Israel activist who made a name for herself on anti-Israel posts slammed actress Gal Gadot for appearing in a series about indigenous people being displaced.

Jews are also indigenous and have been displaced, but for the anti-Israel obsessive crowd, those Jews are never part of the conversation.

Another writer argued that if anti-Israel Jewish activists really want to harm Israel, “make sure your own community/region/nation is welcoming and inclusive and supportive of Jews.” The goal is to “take away the narrative that we ‘need’ Israel because we aren’t welcome anywhere.”

The organization IfNoteNow claimed that “we can show the world that Jews don’t need Israel in order to keep us safe.” Their argument is that “we’re creating thriving, flourishing, safe Jewish lives here in the diaspora by building strong communities and working in solidarity with other marginalized people against white supremacy.”

When we look back at Operation Solomon, bringing so many Jews of color from Africa to Israel, it’s hard to square with the vicious anti-Israel comments in the West, and especially comments that try to portray Israel as a “settler” or “colonial” country.

How can a country where the population is mostly descended from refugees, including people from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Ethiopia, and many other countries in the region, be “colonial” and “settler”?

Operation Solomon is an elephant in the room for the extremist anti-Israel voices. They say Jews should build a home in the Diaspora, and that we don’t “need” Israel. But the 15,000 Jews sitting in Addis Ababa in 1991 needed Israel. No one was going to fly them to New York, and they didn’t want to go to the Diaspora, they desperately wanted to come to Jerusalem. Thousands had already died in the early 1980s trying to reach Israel through Sudan.

Anti-Israel activism is essentially a crusade against the diversity of Israel, and an attempt to rewrite history. None of those anti-Israel activists posted about Operation Solomon during the 30th anniversary. For them, the rescue of people is not a beautiful story. Their “thriving” community is a gated community often unwelcoming to Jews of color and Jews whose stories are anchored in the Middle East. Theirs is not just a claim that they don’t “need” Israel, but a desire to not have a thriving diverse Israel for all types of Jews.

Seth J. Frantzman is a Middle East analyst at The Jerusalem Post and author of the upcoming Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future. 

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