Yemen halts funding for its 100 Jews, NGO says

Human rights group calls for restoring property to dwindling Jewish community, ousted from homes by al-Qaeda five years ago

Illustrative. Yemenite Jews arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in 2012. (Moshe Shai/ Flash90/File)
Illustrative. Yemenite Jews arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in 2012. (Moshe Shai/ Flash90/File)

The Yemeni government has cut off funding for the remaining 100-odd members of the country’s ancient and internally displaced Jewish community, a Sanaa-based NGO said on Saturday.

According to the Sawa’a Organization for Anti-Discrimination, Yemen has halted housing and basic services allocations for Jews, a move the organization called “unfortunate and unacceptable.”

Sawa’a demanded that the “National Reconciliation Government… restore these allocations again, [and] provide [Jews] with housing and safe living, as they are considered to be war-displaced.”

Most of the remaining Jews in Yemen now live in a guarded compound in Sanaa after they were driven from their homes in Saada by al-Qaeda-aligned anti-government forces in 2007. According to Sawa’a, media access to the compound is restricted, and, in October, several Sawa’a staff members were arrested during an attempted visit.

“The return of Jews to Saada currently is not possible,” as such a move would entail “a direct threat to their lives, their safety and security,” the organization said.

Sawa’a, in conjunction with current community rabbi Yahya Yusuf, was working to restore Jewish property lost to the al-Qaeda insurgents, Israel Radio reported Sunday.

In December, Sawa’a protested the exclusion of the Yemeni Jewish community from a national conference that was meant to promote dialogue between various groups in the civil war-torn country. At the time, it was reported that the organization had issued a report documenting the discrimination against the country’s Jews, including their political disenfranchisement and lack of access to jobs and education.

The Jews of Yemen trace their origins in the country to the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, in the year 586 BCE. Geographically isolated from Ashkenazi communities in Europe and Sephardi communities in Asia and North Africa, the small community maintained contact with the outside Jewish world through occasional visits by emissaries and correspondence with rabbis, most notably Moses Maimonides in the 12th century.

The first Yemeni Jews imigrated to Israel in the 1880s, but the largest immigration wave came immediately after the declaration of the state, when some 50,000 Jews were brought to Israel in operation “Magic Carpet” during the years 1949 and 1950 by the Joint Distribution Committee.

The few remaining Jews in Yemen have faced deep distrust and persecution as militant Islam has become more prevalent. In the latest incident, in May 2012, mechanic Aharon Zandani was killed by a knife-wielding al-Qaeda operative outside the Jewish compound.

In the wake of the murder, Zandani’s body was flown to Israel for burial, accompanied by his family.

Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed