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'If there is peace, of course I will go back to Afghanistan'

Last Jew out of Afghanistan warns Israel: ‘Don’t rely on the United States’

Despite criticism, Zebulon Simantov, who was rescued from his homeland after Taliban takeover, says he’s heading to live in the US if he can get the paperwork sorted out

Afghan Jew Zebulon Simentov blows a shofar horn at a synagogue housed in an old building in Kabul, April 5, 2021. (WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP)
Afghan Jew Zebulon Simentov blows a shofar horn at a synagogue housed in an old building in Kabul, April 5, 2021. (WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP)

Zebulon Simantov, Afghanistan’s last Jew, who fled the Taliban’s rule earlier this month, warned Israel that it can’t rely on the United States, as he gave his first interview to Israeli media since his escape.

Simantov, 62, who left Afghanistan by trekking across the border to a neighboring country, told the Kan public broadcaster on Tuesday that he’d had no option but to leave once the Taliban had taken over. He spoke to the station via an interpreter and the report did not reveal which country he was currently in.

“I was in danger every day,” he said. “I protected the synagogue for years and now I had no choice.”

Simantov panned the US for its chaotic withdrawal in August after a 20-year presence in Afghanistan that ousted the Taliban and aimed at building a democracy. As the Taliban surged back to power, the US swiftly pulled its forces out, leaving behind thousands of foreigners and Afghan allies who scrambled to escape the Taliban and their hardline Islamic ideology.

“I say to Israel, don’t rely on the United States,” Simantov said. “The United States and the international community brought bloodshed to Afghanistan. They didn’t bring peace and left the citizens in this situation.”

Despite his criticism, Simantov said he intends to move to the US, though the process was being held up by bureaucracy and difficulty in obtaining the necessary paperwork.

Businessman Moti Kahana, who assisted in getting Simantov out of Afghanistan, told Kan that Israeli officials were trying to help “but it is not moving fast enough.”

Simantov also wants to visit Israel, he said, to see friends.

“I am very eager to travel to Israel and see lots of people there,” he told Kan.

And he still holds out hope of going home again.

“If there is peace, of course, I will go back to Afghanistan,” he said.

Simantov was confident that a synagogue in Kabul, which he looked after for years even though he was the only Jew left, is secure, being guarded, and the Taliban will not destroy it.

Since leaving Afghanistan, Simantov has granted his wife a divorce after refusing for more than 20 years.

He reportedly had in the past refused to leave Afghanistan and travel to Israel in order to avoid dealing with his divorce and with rabbinic authorities, who sanction those who do not grant a Jewish divorce.

Simantov told Kan he was pleased that he had granted the divorce, saying his wife had in the past been indecisive about staying in Afghanistan, until she eventually left in 1995.

Beyond that, “I have nothing to say,” he said.

Under Jewish law, a “get,” or rabbinic bill of divorce, is required for women to be able to remarry. Women whose husbands refuse to give a get are known as “agunot,” or chained women, and their plight is seen as a major point of gender inequality in Orthodox Judaism.

The get process was granted remotely via a video call by the Sydney Beth Din, headed by Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, the Makor Rishon weekly reported on Sunday. They then transmitted his agreement to the rabbinate in Israel, where his wife lives after moving there with the couple’s daughters in 1998.

Kahana had been pushing for Simantov to give the divorce since his perilous escape from Afghanistan earlier this month.

It was not clear when the divorce proceedings took place, but last Wednesday, Kahana tweeted that he had gotten Simantov to sign the relevant documents, without a rabbi being present.

After the United States’ complete withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of August, Simantov crossed the border to a neighboring country in September.

The operation was funded by Moshe Margaretten, an American ultra-Orthodox fixer whose passion is bringing Jews out of danger.

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