Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Middle Eastern Studies


Craig Daigle

Subject Categories

African History | Diplomatic History | History | Islamic World and Near East History | Jewish Studies


Middle East, Israel, Zionism, Ethiopia, Beta Israel, Menachem Begin


This thesis examines diplomatic efforts by Israel, the United States, and non-governmental organizations to facilitate the immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. While much of the historical literature on this topic has focused on the 1980s and 1990s, when tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel, this thesis largely considers the mid-late 1970s. For the first 25 years of its existence, the State of Israel had not been eager to see Ethiopian Jews enter the country, and the government deemed them non-Jews for the purposes of immigration. This started to change in 1973, when the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef, ruled that Ethiopian Jews (also known as the Beta Israel) were indeed Jews. However, movement in the political echelon toward relocating Ethiopia’s Jews was not immediately forthcoming. This thesis identifies the Likud Party’s unexpected victory in the 1977 Israeli election as a critical turning point in this historic saga. Prime Minister Menachem Begin, motivated by deeply held beliefs about the historical role of Zionism to uplift and end the persecution of Jews worldwide, aggressively sought the immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel at a potentially high diplomatic cost—including risking a rift in relations with the United States by selling arms to Ethiopia’s Marxist regime.

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