Yemen coup could spell trouble for local Jewish community

Sanaa’s Jewish community lives in a guarded district under the protection of the central government, after fleeing to the capital from the town of Saada following by the Houthis in 2007.

By REUTERS
January 21, 2015 21:03
2 minute read.
Chief rabbi of Yemenite Jews Yahya Yosef Mosa with his family

Chief rabbi of the Jews in Yemen Yahya Yosef Mosa with his family carries a picture of the ousted president of Yemen Ali Abdullah Salehin in his home in Sanaa. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A takeover of the Yemenite capital of Sanaa by Houthi rebels may put the country’s Jewish community at risk given the Shi’ite group’s track record.

“It is clear they are in danger” due to “religious hate” and “extreme Islam,” University of Haifa professor emeritus Yosef Tobi said, although he was hesitant to make specific predictions.

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Sanaa’s Jewish community lives in a guarded district under the protection of the central government, after fleeing to the capital from the town of Saada following Houthis threats in 2007.

“We warn you to leave the area immediately... Ignore this message, and we give you a period of 10 days, and you will regret it,” a Houthi representative warned the Jewish community of Saada at the time.

“Rising societal tensions, and the government’s lack of resources and capacity to protect [the Jews] adequately from increased threats in late 2008 and early 2009, led to increased emigration of the community,” according to a report on the US State Department website.

After the Houthi rebels entered the capital last year, supporters gathered in the streets, some chanting “Death to America! Death to the Jews! Victory to Islam.” The Houthi logo features the phrases “Death to Israel” and “Damn the Jews.”

“The Jews of Yemen are in big danger now,” said Michael Jankelowitz, a former spokesman to the international media at the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization.

“This should trouble the leaders of the Jewish Agency who have been trickle by trickle bringing them out.”

Yemen boasted a Jewish population of more than 50,000 during the mid-20th century; there are now fewer than 100 Jews in the capital, with another community of similar size in the northern town of Raida. The majority of the country’s Jews immigrated to Israel shortly after the establishment of the state.

In 2008, Moshe Ya’ish al-Nahari was murdered over demands that he convert. His family subsequently made aliya. In 2012, Aharon Zindani was stabbed after being accused of practicing witchcraft.

Anti-Semitic violence has been a growing problem since the 2011 ouster of president Ali Abdullah Saleh. More than 150 Jews moved to Israel between 2009 and 2013, their travels coordinated by the Jewish Agency and the Israel’s Interior, Foreign, and Immigration and Absorption ministries.

Neither the Jewish Agency nor the Foreign Ministry would comment on the possible ramifications of the Houthi coup for Yemen’s Jews.

JTA contributed to this report.


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