Suspenseful true tale of how the Falashas of Ethiopia were ransomed from a latter-day pharaoh.
A century and a half ago, British missionaries reported that they had come across a curious spectacle in the high plateau country of northern Ethiopia: an isolated black tribe whose people kept kosher, observed Levitican constraints about menstruation and circumcision, and in every other possible way were observant Jews. Removed from their fellow Jews for hundreds of years, these Falashas (the name means “stranger” in Amharic) nonetheless harbored dreams of returning to Israel. Enter debut author Naim, Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia in 1990, the year that what would come to be called Operation Solomon occurred. Having arranged the similar ransom of Soviet Jews via Finland, Naim now faced the considerable resistance of Ethiopian dictator Megistu Miriam, who reminded Naim (with some reason) that every Ethiopian had cause to clamor for return to Israel, inasmuch as every Ethiopian was a Jew before converting to Christianity way back in the fourth century. (“He’s a stupid man,” Naim remarked of Mengistu to a colleague. “How did he come to power?” Replied the colleague, “He killed everyone who was in his way.”) American Jews raised $35 million in only three days, Israel made several political concessions, and Naim secured the release of the Falashas from Ethiopia. But the Falashas encountered unforeseen difficulties with integrating into Israeli society, in particular scarcely concealed hostility on the part of the right wing and a general fear of contamination by AIDS or tuberculosis. So chilly was the reception that many older Falashas wanted to return to Ethiopia, jeopardizing Naim’s work—and his carefully constructed argument before the United Nations that the Falashas’ case should “erase the hideous UN resolution equating Zionism with racism.” For all the problems, however, he still views Operation Solomon as a success.
Effectively argued, though the reader may pause to wonder how the Falashas are doing today.