It took the government of Israel nearly three decades to take significant steps to bring the Jews of Ethiopia to Israel, but when it did finally make a commitment to do so in the late 1970s, it carried out daring and dramatic operations. The story of Operation Solomon—how Israel evacuated more than 14,000 Jews in less than thirty-six hours—is the subject of Spector's fascinating and well-documented history.
Following the first large-scale rescue in 1984, Israel learned that the Ethiopian Jewish population was far larger than previously thought. Their predicament became increasingly dire as Ethiopia dissolved into civil war. By 1990-91, thousands of Jews were identified by American activists who provided them humanitarian assistance and called on Israel to allow them all to come to Israel.
The Ethiopian government, however, saw its Jews as bargaining chips and did not want to let them go without extracting a price from Israel. Initially, it sought weapons but ultimately settled for a large payment of cash.
The U.S. government played a key role. Diplomats, Senator Rudy Boschwitz, and President George H.W. Bush all weighed in to secure Ethiopian permission to allow the Jews to leave. Spector does not give Bush the credit he deserves, presenting him as merely signing off on the requests of others rather than himself strongly supporting the rescue. This is an example of the one weakness of the book, which is that it is missing the historical context of the story, in this case, Bush's direct involvement, when vice president, in negotiations with Sudan for the earlier rescue of the Ethiopian Jews.
Spector has interviewed many of the key players and done a good job of sorting out the relative influence of Israeli, Ethiopian, and American officials, activists, and Jewish organizational leaders. It is a marvelous story, and there is enough credit to go around, but Spector also reveals the underside, especially some of the petty jealousies, particularly among the Israelis, that hindered the rescue.