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George H.W. Bush Administration: Speech at the Awards Ceremony for Emigration Assistance to Ethiopian Jews

(June 4, 1991)

I am just delighted to see all of you here in the Rose Garden to celebrate a wonderful thing and to honor four people of the many who participated in permitting people to go home. And I have had a chance to express my personal appreciation to Senator Boschwitz and this team of able American diplomats who made possible a humanitarian rescue mission of heroic proportions.

Their efforts set the stage for an airlift over the weekend of May 24th which brought freedom for one of history's most remarkable people, the Ethiopian Jews.

As civil war escalated in that country, we worried. This year it grew stronger, and prospects for the Falashas' departure to Israel were jeopardized. And their future security looked increasingly in question. And I know everybody out here that has talked to me about this and checked in with friends in the administration felt very strongly about that.

In April, as insurgent forces closed in on the capital, I called Rudy Boschwitz. I asked Senator Boschwitz to go to Addis Ababa urgently as a personal emissary of the President to seek to arrange the expedited departure of the Ethiopian Jews. Events since Senator Boschwitz and his team took their trip have unfolded with dazzling speed. And thanks to him and especially to his colleagues here and others who aren't with us today, arrangements were put in place between Israel and Ethiopia for one of the most bold humanitarian airlifts in history. It succeeded, in less than 24 hours, in carrying more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to new lives in Israel.

The London roundtable, chaired by the United States, resulted in a joint declaration by the Ethiopian combatants who have agreed to organize an all-parties conference to select a transitional government there. We view that decision as a commitment to the democratic process and hope that all Ethiopian political parties and groups in Ethiopia will take advantage of this opportunity to help build a pluralistic future for their country.

As I say, for all of us here today and I think for all the Jews around the world, this was an event of emotional proportions. And I just want you to know that I share in that emotional feeling that something wonderful has happened.

So, in recognition of his extraordinary efforts to arrange for the evacuation of the Falashas at this crucial moment during this period of dramatic political change in Ethiopia, I am today awarding Senator Boschwitz the Presidential Citizen's Medal. And at the same time, I am presenting special awards for exceptional service to the three individuals who made up the Senator's courageous diplomatic team. And Rudy sings their praises to high heavens for the work they did: Irvin Hicks, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; Robert Frasure, the Director of the African Affairs here in the White House at the National Security Council; and then one who's not with us today but is ably represented, Robert Houdek, our Charge d'Affaires of our Embassy in Addis, operating under fire, under great pressure, performing admirably. Mrs. Mary Houdek is accepting the award on behalf of her husband who is still in Ethiopia.

And in presenting these awards, I also want to make special mention of someone else, and I'm talking about Assistant Secretary Hank Cohen in his role in this remarkable odyssey. Operation Solomon represents a culmination for his leadership over the years on this question of the Ethiopian Jews. And all of this occurred at the same time when the Angola accords were signed, a negotiation in which, as we all know, Hank Cohen played an extraordinarily important role.

I salute the contribution which all of them have made to this tremendous success in removing the Ethiopian Jews from harm's way and reuniting them with their loved ones in Israel. And I also salute your efforts to bring peace and democracy to that country, to Ethiopia, a troubled country with which we feel a special kinship in spite of the years of bad relations under the previous regime.

And now it's a privilege and a pleasure to get on with this small awards ceremony, but I think I speak for everybody in the audience when I say we do this with grateful hearts. And now I might ask my military aide, Major Boschwitz -- [laughter] -- Major Boschwitz. [Laughter] Sorry -- Major Bonwit to -- close, Dave -- to read the first citation, if you would, sir.

Sources: Public Papers of the President