The first 76 Jews from the Quara region of Ethiopia arrived in Israel this week on a regularly scheduled Ethiopian Airlines flight after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered an all-out effort to bring them to Israel.
Diplomatic sources said Israel intends to bring all 3,500 Quara Jews to Israel by October. They said Israel could not launch an airlift similar to the one that brought 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1991 because of sensitive relations with Ethiopia. Ethiopia, engaged in a bloody 13-month-old war with Eritrea along their common 620-mile border, fears that an airlift could be used by Eritrea to claim that Jews are fleeing the country.
Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Ariel Kerem, was in Manhattan this week and told reporters that the "Jews of Quara were forgotten" during the 1991 airlift and another effort in 1985 to get Ethiopian Jews to Israel through the Sudan. "It’s sad and we are to blame."
He said that a year ago "pressure began to mount" to bring the Quara Jews to Israel after the Jewish state, for humanitarian reasons, took in about 4,000 to 5,000 Falash Mora: Ethiopians whose ancestors were forced to give up their Judaism.
Meanwhile, Stephen Solender, acting president of the United Jewish Communities, said the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency met in Israel this week and agreed to establish a special $11 million fund to handle the absorption of Jewish refugees. He said that in addition to the Quara Jews, up to 500 Jews might arrive from war-torn Yugoslavia, and another 10,000 Jews from Russia: boosting to 60,000 the annual number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
"This is a very exciting moment because three rescue efforts are under way simultaneously," said Solender in a phone call from Israel.
He said the UJC would ask each federation in North America to contribute to the $11 million "based on the size of the community and its campaign results."
Solender said the money would be raised as part of each federation’s regular Campaign 2000 appeal.