Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Ariel Sharon Comes Under Fire for Speaking of Yemenite Rescue

May 21, 1992
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Housing Minister Ariel Sharon is under fire for disclosing, in a Likud electioneering speech Tuesday, that the government is involved in an effort to bring Yemen’s remaining 1,600 Jews to Israel.

Given their extremely delicate nature, such matters are not open to public discussion.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, reportedly taken aback when he heard Sharon’s remarks on the radio, is said to have promptly reprimanded the minister by telephone.

The report said Sharon was apologetic and claimed he had not realized how sensitive the issue was.

Knesset member Yossi Sarid of the Meretz faction accused Sharon of revealing a state secret and demanded a swift investigation by the attorney general and the police.

Sharon’s office lashed back at Sarid, calling him a “leftist squealer.”

Avigdor Kahalani, chairman of the Committee for Yemenite Jewry and a Labor candidate for the Knesset, called Sharon’s remarks “irresponsible and likely to damage Yemenite Jews.” He told reporters he could not believe his ears when he heard Sharon’s disclosure.

The mass-circulation daily Yediot Achronot said in an editorial Wednesday that it was astounded that “of all people, Arik Sharon, a reserve general and a former defense minister, should be the one to expose a top political secret, hoping to make political gain.”

But Sharon defended himself in a statement issued Tuesday night.

“The things I said about the Yemenite Jews were general statements that have been made in the past on the subject and did not constitute any new revelations or secrets,” he said.

He was referring to the remarks he made at a Likud rally in Kiryat Ata, an immigrant town-ship in the Haifa Bay area.


At that gathering, Sharon credited his party with increasing immigration from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia and for “the release of Jews imprisoned in Syria.”

“The government’s efforts to liberate the Yemenite Jews is the latest in an immigration program which Likud governments have been involved in since 1977,” he said.

He added, however, that “one should not say too much on the subject, one should restrain oneself.”

Sarid, chairman of the Knesset’s censorship subcommittee, said the news media had been asked specifically not to mention anything about the Yemenite operation in order not to jeopardize it.

But Sharon went ahead and disclosed it in a public speech, the Knesset member charged.

Sharon retorted that “the leftists who expressed their views on the issue showed greater irresponsibility. They are the ones who have focused attention on the issue.”

He accused Sarid in particular of being “a regular informer to the Americans.”

Sharon probably was referring to information about the true extent of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which reached the Bush administration and prompted it to reject Israel’s request for U.S. guarantees covering $10 billion in loans for immigrant absorption.

The flap over Sharon’s remarks about Yemenite Jews is not without precedent. Negotiations with countries that restrict Jewish emigration are extremely delicate and are conducted discreetly outside the public view.

Operation Moses was a case in point. The secret airlift, which brought thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel via Sudan in 1984 and 1985, had to be halted when it was exposed through leaks to the news media. There were political recriminations at the time.

Recommended from JTA