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Letter to the Editor: Ethiopia: Setting the record straight

Published: October 7, 2011
Section: Opinions


I recently read Rick Alterbaum’s piece titled “Supporting Israel in times of trouble.” I am actually a fan of Mr. Alterbaum’s pieces and though I may not agree with his positions, I find his pieces insightful and well thought out.

In Mr. Alterbaum’s most recent piece, however, I was somewhat confused by an assertion made in the third paragraph of the piece, which states: “Israel, forming what was termed the alliance of the periphery, sought to forge relations with countries and non-state actors that had not succumbed to Arab nationalism, including Turkey, Ethiopia and even Iran before the 1979 revolution.” The sentence seems to be suggesting that Ethiopia shared similar cultural characteristics with Turkey and Iran pre-1979 and like those nations may have been susceptible to Arab nationalism, a mistake that may be attributed to Ethiopia’s high Muslim population, concentrated around certain cities such as Harer and ethnically Somali territories such as Ogaden.

While I am generally not very informed on issues pertaining to the Middle East and Israeli foreign policy, I am fairly well versed in the history of Ethiopia, a nation that was my home for 12 years. Though it may not have been Mr. Alterbaum’s intention, the assertion that Ethiopia was ever susceptible to Arab nationalism is absurd to the point of laughable. Ethiopian national feelings (both then and now) toward Arabs can only be described as unmitigated hostility bordering on outright racism. Though there is a large Muslim population in Ethiopia, they are dramatically underrepresented in parliament and political life and, furthermore, are certainly not Arab. It is that last point that would make it especially challenging to assert, even tacitly, that Ethiopian Muslims would have been moved to any Arab nationalism.

In addition, it is probably important to note that relations were formally terminated soon after they were established, as the pro-Israeli emperor and the old guard of parliament were murdered and imprisoned following a military coup in 1974. Though Israel continued to provide military aid to the brutal Marxist regime, relations were always tense as Ethiopia realigned itself with the Soviet Union and its radical Arab allies.

I realize that Mr. Alterbaum may not have been making this assertion at all, but I feel it is absolutely necessary, even in an opinion piece targeted at a largely sympathetic college campus, to maintain the high degree of factual accuracy and commitment to truth that I have come to expect from The Hoot.