Ministers meet over posthumous pardon for ‘Yemenite children’ activist

Ohana, Gamliel talk with son of Uzi Mushalem, who was jailed over 1994 deadly standoff during campaign to uncover the fate of thousands of infants allegedly kidnapped by state

Screen capture from video of activist Uzi Mushalem. (YouTube)
Screen capture from video of activist Uzi Mushalem. (YouTube)

Justice Minister Amir Ohana on Wednesday held a special discussion with a minister and officials over the potential posthumous pardoning of a controversial social activist who was imprisoned following a deadly siege and standoff with police in 1994 that led to the death of one of his followers.

The meeting came after Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel asked President Reuven Rivlin to clear the record of Uzi Mushalem who campaigned to reveal what happened to thousands of Yemenite child immigrants allegedly kidnapped from their parents by state authorities when they arrived in the country in the 1950s.

Meshulam’s intense campaigning came to a head in 1994 when he and his followers, heavily armed with guns and other weapons, barricaded themselves in his home for several weeks with police surrounded the building. The incident ended with a violent standoff that resulted in the death of one and the arrest of 11 of his followers.

Meshulam and his followers were convicted of a slew of offenses including conspiracy to commit a crime, obstructing justice, intent to cause serious injury deliberate risk of human lives, and manufacturing illegal weapons. He was eventually sentenced to six and a half years in prison over the affair, but president Ezer Weizman took off seven months from his sentence.

His health failed in prison and after being released he retired from public life. He died in 2013 aged 60.

“I have no doubt that there was a great injustice done to the late Rabbi Uzi Meshulam regarding the coverage of his outcry which was then presented as delusional, unfounded and irreverent,” said Ohana, according to the Maariv newspaper.

Gamliel, who filed the petition along with Mushalem’s son Ami, said Meshulam was owed the pardon.

“In 2019, it is unanimous that injustice was done to Jews from Yemen, the East and the Balkans, and the State of Israel and Israeli society have a moral debt to Rabbi Meshulam,” she said. “A debt should be paid after the death of the man who was the first to identify and fight for justice.”

The meeting was said to have been attended by officials from the department that deals with pardons in the Justice Ministry.

Some 49,000 Yemeni Jews were brought to the nascent State of Israel in Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50. Since the 1950s, more than 1,000 families — mostly immigrants from Yemen, but also dozens from the Balkans, North Africa, and other Middle Eastern countries — have alleged their children were kidnapped from Israeli hospitals and put up for adoption, sometimes abroad, in what is known as the Yemenite children affair.

Ilustrative – Yemenite Jewish children and their toys in the Hashed camp near Aden, Yemen. 1949. (David Eldan/GPO photo archive)

Disputed by scholars and seemingly refuted by three state commissions that examined the affair and concluded that most of the children had died, the case has kept resurfacing, not least because most of the families were not given their children’s bodies or informed of their burial places.

The claims also come against a background of neglect and marginalization with which many Muslim-world Jewish immigrants were greeted when they arrived in an Israel controlled at the time by an Ashkenazi Jewish elite.

In 2017, Channel 10 television reported that dozens of families of Yemenite Jews who say their children were taken from them are filing a class-action lawsuit demanding millions in reparations from the State of Israel and the Jewish Agency.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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