For Jews, Roiling Yemen No Longer Place to Call Home

November 25, 2009

Author: Sudarsan Raghavan

Source: The Washington Post

The last remaining Jews in Yemen are vanishing, driven out by politics, war and hatred. Once numbering 60,000, one of the oldest Jewish populations in the Arab world now has fewer than 350 members.

In recent months, persecution by Islamist extremists has intensified, accelerating Jews' flight from Yemen. Many are heading to the United States. With the help of the U.S. government and U.S.-based Jewish organizations, 57 Yemeni Jews have been resettled in New York since July. At least 38 are expected to arrive soon and many more are eligible, American officials said. Others are seeking refuge in Israel and Europe.

In the capital, Sanaa, 65 Jews who fled their northern villages are living in a government compound under heavy security. Last week, police arrested two men suspected of planning to assassinate the community's rabbi, according to Yemeni news reports.

The exodus of Yemen's Jews -- who survived the rise of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula and for centuries coexisted, if tenuously, with Muslims -- is the latest sign of this nation's social fragmentation. Yemen's weak central government is struggling with a civil war in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and a growing al-Qaeda presence. Large swaths of the nation, the Middle East's poorest, are controlled by tribes, which resent any interference from the government.