Israeli businessman caught up in Human Rights nightmare Meets Congressman Smith to Thank Him (PHOTO)

A poignant meeting took place in Washington, DC in the offices of Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), who represents Lakewood.

Menashe Levy, an Israeli businessman who was caught up in a human rights nightmare in Ethiopian prison, visited the Congressman to express his heartfelt thanks for Congressman Smith’s tireless championing of his case over the past few years.

Menashe Levy went through an ordeal similar to that which Yanky Ostreicher endured in Bolivia (another case in which Congressman Smith personally involved himself and was very instrumental). Levy was the owner of Tidhar Excavation, the largest excavation company in Ethiopia, which employed over 6,000 local workers and made a positive contribution to Ethiopian development and the economy. In 2015, he was summarily arrested on unclear charges that were never substantiated and thrown into a horrifically overcrowded communal cell for several months with dangerous prisoners. One of his cellmates was a Sudanese terrorist imprisoned for attempting to hijack an El Al flight. He took out his anti-Semitic zeal on Menashe, beating him in the head until he was unconscious and left with traumatic brain injuries. Levy was then moved to a prison hospital wing, where he received primitive treatment and was incarcerated in miserable conditions for the next few years, as his trial was repeatedly delayed.

In 2017, with Levy languishing in prison and no end in sight, Rabbi Aaron Kotler, President of Beth Medrash Govoha (BMG) turned to Congressman Smith on behalf of the Lakewood Vaad to ask for his help in bringing the case to the attention of the highest levels of the Ethiopian government. The Congressman is known far and wide as the foremost champion of human rights in the U.S. Congress, someone who advocates for the victims of human rights abuses at home and in some of the most dangerous countries in the world.

As Rabbi Kotler explained to Congressman Smith the details of the case and Levy’s ordeal, the Congressman was appalled and determined that he would not rest until he saw Menashe freed. BMG’s Department of Government Affairs coordinated closely with Congressman Smith and his staff over many months as Congressman Smith, then chairman of a congressional committee that has direct oversight on issues in Africa, highlighted Levy’s case in a Congressional hearing on human rights in Ethiopia.  Chairman Smith also held meetings with Ethiopian officials to advocate on his behalf.  In 2018, Congressman Smith traveled to Ethiopia on a major human rights mission and raised Menashe’s case as part of the many issues he discussed in meetings with the Prime Minister and other top officials.

The tide began to turn as the Aleph Institute’s burgeoning International Advocacy Department took a lead role in the case over the past year. Working with Congressman Smith, Senator Jim Risch, Congressman Elliot Engel, attorneys Gary Apfel and Professor Alan Dershowitz, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Agudath Israel, and many others, Aleph tirelessly championed Levy’s case with top Ethiopian and Israeli officials.  Congressman Smith reached out to a key leader in the Ethiopian diaspora, Dr. Assefe, who was moved by Levy’s plight and appalled at the injustice that had taken place; he dedicated his time and energy fully to helping Menashe, traveling to Ethiopia and interceding with his contacts at the highest levels.

This past July, with much siyata dishmaya, the non-stop efforts of Menashe’s dedicated advocates, led and coordinated by Aleph, finally met with success. After a crucial direct intervention by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the behest of Professor Dershowitz, Levy was finally freed. Menashe, with his trademark energy and determination, did not allow himself to rest, immediately scheduling a trip to the United States to thank the many people who had done so much to help him, and to seek medical advice for his daughter Racheli, a mother of four who suffered a debilitating stroke during his imprisonment, which may have been brought on by the stress of the family’s ordeal.

As Menashe entered Congressman Smith’s office in Washington, he shared his gratitude with representatives of the Lakewood community for all that Congressman Smith had done for him on their request. He also shared some thoughts and insights he had developed over years of reading the Tanach in prison – the only book that he was allowed by the prison authorities to keep with him. Dr. Assefe spoke of how he had visited Menashe in the depths of the Ethiopian prison – and even the guards said, “This man does not belong here,” and his relief upon finally seeing him free.

Congressman Smith was visibly moved to finally meet Menashe in person, and to see him walking free.

Mrs. Chanie Jacobowitz, Vice-President of Government Affairs at BMG, presented Congressman Smith with a booklet of coverage of the historic visit of U.S. Special Envoy Elan Carr to Lakewood in Smith’s district just a week before. Carr’s position of U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism was created by legislation authored by Congressman Smith in 2004; the Congressman has now introduced legislation to elevate the position to Ambassador-level and further strengthen the office. Mrs. Jacobowitz noted how fitting it was that the event occurred so close to this meeting with Menashe, as his story is just the latest in a long line of cases where Congressman Smith has put himself on the line to defend and rescue victims of anti-Semitism and global abuses of human rights.


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