(Editor’s Note: Retro News is a column that will appear every week as part of the celebration of the Chronicle’s 50th anniversary. Each week, Retro News will look at a past issue of the Chronicle, encapsulating the news reported that week.)
It’s not every week that the front page of the Chronicle has a story under the byline of the prime minister of Israel.
But that’s what happened on July 8, 1976, just four days after Israeli commandos swept down on the international airport in Entebbe, Uganda, to rescue 102 hostages from Air France Flight 139, which terrorists hijacked over Greece on June 27.
The price of the operation was high. In addition to the seven hijackers and three hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers who were killed, the operation claimed the life of commando leader Yoni Netanyahu, brother of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and today an iconic figure in Israel.
In his front-page statement, then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called the rescue mission “a bold, resourceful and sophisticated effort,” but he did not overlook the loss of life to Israel and the hostages’ families.
“Together with the families who have lost their dear ones, we mourn our dead,” Rabin wrote, “uniformed and civilian, victims of the vile Arab terrorism.”
He used the forum to trumpet another example of Israel’s refusal to deal with terrorists, saying the mission was “worthy of Jewish and Israeli pride and of worldwide acclaim.”
Operation UMI (Uganda, Mission Incredible) is how the Chronicle labeled the mission, but its real code name was Operation Thunderbolt.
The rescue effort was dubbed, dominated the front page of the Chronicle, which had a map showing the 5,000-mile route the commandos’ plane took to Entebbe, and how they refueled in Kenya before returning to Israel.
Also published on page 1 was a grisly wire story about Dora Bloch, a 75-year-old Jewish hostage who was in an Entebbe hospital when the rescue took place. According to the story, she was dragged from her hospital shortly after the rescue. She was never seen or heard from again; U.S. State Department sources said the Ugandans killed her.
At the upper left-hand corner of the page was a federation appeal on the heels of the successful rescue effort.
Oddly, there also was wire story about a Presbyterian minister who warned of a new effort that summer by Christian missionaries to convert Jews.
In his weekly “People & Issues” column, which took up almost an entire page that week, the Chronicle’s executive editor, Albert W. Bloom, used the rescue at Entebbe to note the seventh bracha of the morning Shacharit service, which gives thanks to the Guardian of Israel “who settest the captives free.”
“The words seemed to reflect some primitive bygone century when men and nations were less ‘civilized,’ ” Bloom wrote. “No more!”
He noted that the Entebbe rescue occurred in the same country that Theodore Herzl once considered for a new homeland for the Jews.
“History repeats itself,” he wrote, “but never in the same way.”
Also this week, the Chronicle reported that Ivan Novick was elected president of the Tri-State Zionist Organization at its annual conference … Louis Zeiden of Beaver Falls was named to the board of the Tri-State Israel Bonds Cabinet … Irene Smolover became the fundraising vice president of the Pittsburgh Council of Pioneer Women … and Gertrude Brog and Rabbi Benjamin Nadoff, members of the Hillel Academy staff and administration, were honored for more than 25 years of service at the school’s 15th annual senior high school commencement.
In a somber moment, the Chronicle also carried a full-page ad from the federation recalling the victims of the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The ad showed a single memorial candle flickering in front of a black backdrop with the words, draped above and below the picture:
“Olympic flame: 1972
Remembering is not enough”
— Compiled by Lee Chottiner
(For a more comprehensive look at the July 8, 1976, Chronicle, visit the jewishchronicle.net and click on “archives” at the top of the page. Back issues of the Chronicle are archived by the Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project.)