SAVING THE LOST TRIBE: The Rescue and Redemption of the Ethiopian Jews

Asher Naim, Author . Ballantine $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-345-45081-4

Operation Solomon was one of recent history's more unusual mass immigrations. In April 1991, 14,200 African Jews were airlifted from war-torn Ethiopia to Israel in a 25-hour period, bringing nothing other than religious items and the clothes on their backs. As Israel's ambassador to Ethiopia from 1990 to 1992, Naim was responsible for engineering the exit. A senior diplomat whose former postings included Washington, D.C., and Helsinki, Naim chronicles the events leading up to the mission, including his dealings with Ethiopian president Mengistu Miriam and members of his regime. A dictator who had seized power and poured the country's resources into the military at the expense of its people, Mengistu was scrambling to retain control in the face of armed rebellion and saw the Beta Israel, a group of Ethiopian Jews, as a powerful bargaining tool. With help from the first Bush administration and the American Jewish community, which provided $35 million to the Ethiopian government, Naim was able to coordinate the exodus. In the nine months it took him to arrange it, he also became familiar with the culture of the Beta Israel, whose isolation had frozen their rituals in the premodern era. Anyone interested in international relations will appreciate this valuable behind-the-scenes look at how diplomacy works. But a story as compelling as this one deserves more insight and analysis than Naim offers. He is, however, generous with facts and anecdotes, providing important raw material for future writers and scholars, as well as a clear chronology of the events leading up to Operation Solomon. B&w illus. and 8 pages of color illus. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 12/23/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003
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