Secret emigration effort for Yemenite Jews imperiled

NEW YORK (JTA) — A secret operation to take imperiled Jews out of Yemen could be in jeopardy after news of the effort was made public.

Since a Yemenite Jew was murdered in December by a Muslim in the northern city of Raida, Jewish organizations have stepped up their efforts to take the approximately 280 remaining Jews in Yemen out of the country, where anti-Jewish hostility appears to be on the rise following the launch of Israel’s military operation in Gaza three months ago. Yemen’s president has taken several steps to protect the Jews in his country.

About three weeks ago, the Jewish Agency for Israel announced that it had brought 10 Jews to Israel. Meanwhile, the United Jewish Communities has been working behind the scenes to arrange for the immigration of some 113 members of the Yemenite community to the United States. The operation was a joint effort that included the Satmar community of Rockland County, N.Y. — the community has ties to Yemenite Jewry and is determined that they preserve their traditional religious practices — as well as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, FEGS, UJA-Federation of New York and the U.S. State Department.

But after Israel’s daily Ma’ariv published an account this week of the UJC’s effort, Jewish organizational officials involved in the emigration effort said they were worried the Yemeni government would clamp down on Jewish emigration — especially to Israel — possibly to placate Arab critics.

"We’re concerned this will endanger this operation and will strand the Jews there," one Jewish organizational official said of the publicity.

For its part, the Jewish Agency, which was the first group to go public with its effort to spirit Yemenite Jews out of the country, issued a harsh condemnation of the operation to bring the Yemenites to the United States.

"We vehemently oppose the immigration of Jews, wherever they are, to the United States, including the group of Jews from Yemen that is not going to the State of Israel," the Jewish Agency said in a statement. "The place of all Jews from the entire Diaspora — and included in this are the Jews of Yemen — is in their homeland, Israel."

U.S. Jewish organizational officials said they simply were following the wishes of Jews in Yemen who had expressed a preference to immigrate to America.

"Our efforts were aimed primarily at trying to get them to Israel," Joe Berkofsky, a UJC spokesman, told JTA. "Some did not want to go to Israel; they wanted to go to the States.

"Our primary mission is to help Jews in need and save Jewish lives. And if some want to come to the United States and that’s going to save their life, that’s what we need to do."

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