Sunday, February 22, 2015

Yemen's Remnant Jewish Community Faces Fresh Persecution - But why are there any Jews still in Yemen?

The safety of the less than 100 Jews remaining in Yemen has deteriorated since Houthi "militants" solidified control of the country in February, The New York Times reported.

The remnant Yemeni Jewish community lives mostly in the northern town of Raida and in the capital of Sana. 

Among the 55 Jews in Raida—  children, elderly people, very few singles— are Abraham Jacob, 36, who like most of his male coreligionists is identifiable by his curly earlocks or payot, the Times reported.

The plight of the Jews has only gotten more precarious since the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh was overthrown by the Houthis, who are Shiite Arabs (of the Zaidi sect) aligned with the Shiite Persians of Iran.

The official Houthi slogan is "Death to America, death to Israel, damnation to the Jews."

Note that radical Islamists don't get bogged down in the distinction between Jews and the Jewish state. 

When he goes to the market Jacob is routinely taunted as a "dirty Jew"
"We have no friends," he told a Times reporter, "so we just try to stay away from everyone as much as we can."

Saleh had been prevailed upon to create a protected ghetto for the Jews in Sana near the U.S. embassy. 

Now both the U.S. embassy and the former strongman are gone

There are an estimated 20 to 40 Jews in the capital living under virtual house arrest, the Times reported.

Suleiman Jacob, 45, Abraham's eldest brother tucks his earlocks under an Arabic-style headdress to avoid bullying. "It's a shame that we have to do that sometimes, but we do," he said.

"Honestly," Suleiman said, "we are a little afraid of the Houthi takeover and don't know what to do about it." He adds, "There isn't a single one of us here who doesn't want to leave. Soon there will be no Jews in Yemen, inshallah," meaning "God willing" in Arabic.

Community members would prefer to emigrate to the United States, which they say is safer than Israel, according to the Times.

Worth keeping in mind that what little they know about Israel is filtered through the local Arabic-language media. 

Saleh, though Shiite, had opposed the Houthis and aligned Yemen with Washington. Sunnis comprise about 65 percent of the population and al-Qaida has a strong presence in the country.

The Sunni majority is being wooed by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The Sunni tribes may not like al-Qaida but with the Shiite Houthis banging at the door they may be forced to align with Sunnis "militants." 

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that AQAP has been taking advantage of the political vacuum in Yemen -- capturing military bases formerly loyal to the strongman Saleh.

To make matters murkier, some Sunni tribes are hooking up with the Islamic State – abandoning al-Qaida – as a balance against the advancing Shiites.

The rule of thumb in Arabia and throughout the Arab world is always align with the Strong Horse. The barbarians of the Islamic State seem like a safer bet than the al-Qaida fanatics.

Back to the Jews. 

Yemen's Jewish community predates the founding of Islam in the 7th century C.E.  Ponder that: there were Jews in Arabia before there were Muslims in Arabia.

There was never a reliable modern-era census of Jews in Yemen. Some 16,000 Jews emigrated to Palestine prior to Israeli independence in 1948.

By 1950, 43,000 Jews had been airlifted out of Yemen to Israel. 

In 1968 there were believed to be 200 Jews in the country, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica.

The Times story begs the question: why would any Jews opt to stay in Yemen even during the comparatively better days before the Houthis?

There are very human reasons for that. People will often choose the familiar (language, landscape, and "home") over starting a new life elsewhere. 

Those portrayed in the Times piece must be stalwarts of the better-the-devil-you-know worldview. And kudos to the Times for doing the story (even if it includes a subliminal zinger at Israel).

Incidentally, the staunchly anti-Zionist Satmar hassidic sect has worked to discourage Zionist-oriented aliya to Israel. On the other hand, they've been involved in rescuing the remnant Jews of Yemen for years – even moving some to South America as an interim measure. No one else seemed much interested, apparently, since the remnant chose to stay when they could have left for Israel.

Footnote: Saudi Arabia which already is building a security barrier along its border with Yemen is embarking on a security fence with Iraq as well. Egyptian troops are being deployed in Saudi Arabia along its border with Iraq.

All this illustrates (again) how mistaken is the myth that the Palestinian Arab struggle to destroy Israel is the root of Middle East instability.

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