Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

How much did Jeb Bush really do to rescue Ethiopian Jews?

(JTA)-Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor running for the Republican presidential nomination, has been called out for exaggerating his role in the rescue of Ethiopian Jews in the 1980s.

Bush takes credit on his campaign website for Operation Joshua, a U.S.-led transfer of Ethiopian Jews from Sudanese refugee camps to Israel in 1985.

The website says: "In the 1980's thousands of members of the Jewish community had fled their homeland due to famine for a refugee camp in Sudan. Jeb, hearing of the conditions in the camp and the persecution these Jews were suffering, suggested to Reagan-Bush officials that the United States had a duty to support a massive airlift. The resulting effort, Operation Joshua, made history when Israeli planes, with American support, brought these Jews to the homeland of the Jewish people, the State of Israel."

But Mother Jones magazine has dissected the claim and found it wanting in truthiness.

Bush appears here to be referring to Operation Moses, the massive airlift that brought 8,000 starving Ethiopian Jews out of Sudan. His actual role was in Operation Joshua, the follow-up American airlift that rescued 900 Jews left behind after bumbling Israeli bureaucrats made Operation Moses public.

(Confusingly, after Mother Jones called the Bush campaign claim into question, the campaign changed the headline from "Operation Moses" to "Operation Joshua"-but left the text, describing Operation Moses, intact.)

The younger Bush's role in Joshua was relatively minor, Mother Jones said: There was already overwhelming pressure from Congress on the Reagan administration to rescue the remaining Jews, and Phil Blazer, the Jewish philanthropist who was leading advocacy for the Jews left behind, sought a meeting with Bush's father, Vice President George Bush, who had a meeting scheduled with Sudan's president.

Blazer reached out to the elder Bush through two interlocutors: movie producer Jerry Weintraub, a friend of the Bush family, and Ronald Krongold, a friend of Jeb Bush. Weintraub and Jeb Bush made calls to the vice president, who agreed to meet with Blazer and was moved to persuade the Sudanese president to allow the Jews to leave.

From Mother Jones:

"Blazer says he's surprised that Jeb Bush hasn't hyped this story more on the campaign trail. But how much credit can he claim? Congress was already leaning on the White House; others were calling for the Reagan-Bush administration to take action. 'The way I look at it is that Jeb Bush and Jerry Weintraub were important in making the meeting between myself and the vice president happen,' Blazer says. 'They were involved. Who was the more important catalyst? I don't know. But they were both involved.'"


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