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)
Yemen’s remaining Jews have been given a stark choice by their government: Convert to Islam or leave the country.
According to acting Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara, a Druse lawmaker who maintains ties with contacts across the Arab world, a representative of Yemen’s small Jewish community reached out to him with a written ultimatum from the country’s government.
The Jews were told to “convert or leave the state,” the Likud MK told The Jerusalem Post
on Sunday, adding that the unnamed Jewish representative “requested that I take care of this.”
A spokesman for the party of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh said the report was incorrect.
Yemen boasted a Jewish population of over 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 Raida. The majority of the country’s Jews immigrated to Israel shortly after the it was established.
The Jewish community has faced dangers in recent years.
After 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.”
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Yemen’s Jews “want to leave there fast. We need to act fast to get them out and we will do that, God willing,” Kara continued. “The whole world ought to know that there is a problem with the Houthis.”
According to Kara, the Jews of Yemen are critical of the Jewish Agency and its efforts on their behalf, and he will work to arrange meetings between the Jewish representative from Yemen and agency chairman Natan Sharansky, Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry told the Post he would not comment on the issue because it is “very delicate and people’s lives are at stake.”
A senior Jewish Agency official added, “There are some things that cannot be discussed publicly, for obvious reasons. The Jewish Agency has long been involved in efforts to rescue the remaining Jews in Yemen, and has often gone well beyond the call of duty to facilitate a way out for those who wish to leave, even in times of civil war and strife. We are not at liberty to comment further at this time.”
Anti-Semitic violence in Yemen has been a growing problem since the 2011 ouster of Saleh. More than 150 Jews moved to Israel between 2009 and 2013, their travel coordinated by the Jewish Agency and the Interior, Foreign, and Immigration and Absorption ministries.
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