Over the past several months a series of uprisings has shaken the Arab world,
felling dictators and ushering in a period of great hope and fear for the
future. But despite the growing political instability in the region, Jewish
communities in Arab lands have so far chosen to stay.
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The remaining Jews
in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt – tiny remnants of once-much-larger communities
decimated by decades of voluntary and involuntary emigration – have turned down
repeated offers to leave by Jewish organizations and Israel concerned with their
In Yemen, where a deadly confrontation has been going on for
months between the government and protesters, the country’s 250 Jews were
recently asked by a Jewish group if they needed help in emigrating, a source
involved in talks told The Jerusalem Post
on Monday, on condition of
“The response was, basically, no,” the source said in an
“Jews in Yemen say they feel safe and that the political mayhem
does not touch them.
Those in Sanaa continue to receive assistance from
the Yemen Government and are less motivated to leave.
“If they were to
leave, they would be looking for a destination likely to provide assistance on a
continuing basis. The preferred destination is UK at the present time, the
second choice being Israel.”
Smaller communities in the Yemeni cities of
Amran and Raidah that receive stipends from the Satmar Hassidic movement – a
vehemently anti-Zionist religious community based in the US – have also turned
down offers to leave.
“Bottom Line: No one is leaving at this time, but a
number of them are making contingency plans to leave,” the source
“The border, however, is open and they are free to leave should
they change their mind.”
Similarly, the vast majority of Tunisia’s
estimated 1,500 Jews – of whom about 1,100 live on the island of Djerba in the
south, and the rest in the capital Tunis – have chosen to stay despite extensive
efforts by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel to bring them
to the Jewish state.
Over the past few months Israel has spoken in
increasingly alarming tones about the prospects facing the community in the
North African country.
“The regime change in Tunisia as a result of the
has brought about the Islamization of the
government and rise in anti-Semitism,” a document written by the Absorption
“There has been an increasingly worsening attitude by
the authorities and society toward the Jewish community.”
Last week the
cabinet approved a generous package for olim from Tunisia – on top of that
regularly given to Jewish immigrants to Israel.
“Every family will
receive a grant of NIS 33,000 ($9,300) – NIS 15,000 ($4,200) of which will be
given to the family in their first year in the country, with the remaining NIS
18,000 ($5,100) distributed in their second year,” a press release
Yet since the start of the year, only a few dozen Jews have
immigrated to Israel, some of whom had made plans to move long before the
Over the past weeks Tunisian Jews have told the Post
the “revolution was against the government, not against the Jews.”
the last 65 years we have always had some leave,” Roger Bismuth, the president
of the Jewish community, said last week. “Lately, I haven’t even heard of people
leaving. I’m here with my business, family and children.”
In Egypt, about
70 Jews, mostly elderly in their 70s and 80s, remain despite endemic anti-
Semitism in Egyptian society.
Leaders of the community have repeatedly
declined to speak to media directly in order to maintain a low profile, but
sources in close contact with them said that they, too, have no plans to go
All that may change, however, if an attack against a Jewish
target were to be carried out, as they have in the not-too-distant
In 2002 a bomb exploded outside a synagogue on the Tunisian island
of Djerba killing 21 people, mostly tourists; and in 2008, a Jew was murdered in
Yemen by an Islamic extremist, prompting the departure of about 100 members of
Since the start of the uprisings, however, no such
incidents have been recorded, neither against the Jewish communities or their
institutions in Egypt or in Yemen.
The only anti-Semitic incidents to
date were the burning of a makeshift synagogue near Djerba, and a group of
protesters hurling insults at Jewish worshippers in Tunis. But Bismuth insisted
that up until now there have been “no problems” for the Jewish community in
“Nothing prevents you of leaving the country if you want, we are
completely free,” he said.