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(photo credit: AP [file])
Officials in Israel and the Jewish Agency are angered at the coming move of more than 100 Yemenite Jews, almost half of the remaining community in that country, to the United States.
The American Jewish community umbrella organization, the UJC, is spearheading efforts to raise funds for the resettlement of 113 Yemenite Jews to haredi neighborhoods in Monsey, New York.
"Several recent events have led experts to believe that the Jews of Yemen must be evacuated as soon as possible," the UJC's leadership wrote to federation executives in a letter dated May 8.
"Last December, a prominent Jewish teacher in Yemen was assassinated. Recently, the home of a prominent Jewish family was fire-bombed. In many ways, the small Yemenite Jewish community has experienced increasingly hostile relationships and intimidation from their Arab neighbors," the letter said.
According to the UJC leaders, including Board of Trustees chair Joe Kanfer, Executive Committee chair Kathy Manning and president Howard Rieger, 113 Jews "have already been interviewed by the Department of Homeland Security, and are likely to be here in the next five weeks."
The resettlement is expected to cost some $2m., of which the UJC is raising some $800,000. The rest comes from the US government, which is the body officially bringing the Yemenite Jews, and local community contributions.
But not everyone is happy with the move.
"Clearly if you gave those $2 million to the Jewish Agency, they would do much more with that money in terms of improving their [the Yemenite Jews'] living conditions," said an Israeli official who asked not to be named. "It would be more than enough to bring the entire population [of 270] to Israel."
According to a UJC official, the organization is carrying out the desires of the Yemenite Jews themselves, some of whom have been influenced by the anti-Zionist Satmar hassidic sect or see the US as a place they wish to live.
"We help Jews who are in need, anywhere," said a UJC official. "Our understanding is that these Jews have chosen 100% of their own free will to go to America.
"Obviously we encourage Jews to go to Israel. We support many projects for Jews to do that, including the Jewish Agency itself. But we are fulfilling the wishes of the Jews on the ground in Yemen."
Jewish Agency spokespeople officially deny there is disagreement between the two organizations, but off-record, many Agency officials, including senior ones, say they feel they have been one-upped by the sheer financial resources the Americans have brought to bear.
"The Americans say, 'everyone should live where they want,'" said a Jewish Agency source who is close to the issue, "but the motivation for leaving [for the US] is not that they are under threat, but that they have a huge financial incentive to go. Maybe five percent of the Yemenite Jews are going to the US because of a clear decision to live among Satmar haredim in Monsey."
According to the UJC, however, the bad feelings of some Israelis is not enough to stop the resettlement, which is being carried out by a broad "consortium" of American Jewish groups together with the US State Department.
"We can think of nothing more important than helping to shepherd terrorized Jews into freedom and then successfully reintegrating them into vital Jewish life," the UJC leaders wrote in the letter to federations.
Jewish Agency spokesman Gil Litman denied there are significant tensions between the two organizations. "The Jewish Agency fundamentally believes that the ideal home for the Jews of Yemen is Israel, where there is a community of tens of thousands of Yemeni Jews. This is a view shared by our partners, including the UJC," Litman said in a statement.
"Comments attributed to Jewish Agency sources are not accurate and do not reflect the official position of the organization," the statement read.