Last week, the Jewish Agency secretly smuggled 17 Jews out of Yemen to start a new life in Israel safe from persecution. 

The Jewish Agency helped a group of 17 Yemenite Jews make Aliyah to Israel, in a covert act reminiscent of Operation Magic Carpet, the first mass Yemenite Jewish Aliyah after the foundation of the State of Israel.  Citing heightened security concerns and increasing anti-semitic tensions in Yemen, two separate Yemenite Jewish families were brought to Israel.

Five family members consisting of four adults and one small child were flown in directly from Yemen to Ben-Gurion International Airport.  They were met there by 12 other Yemenite Jews  that had been smuggled out of Yemen and taken to temporarily reside Buenos Aires, Argentina until they were clandestinely flown from Argentina to Israel.  The group of 12 included four children from one family and five from another, one of whom had married and had a husband and child joining her on the flight to Israel.

Jewish Agency chairman Nathan Sharansky stated: “We are privileged to engage in a mission that combined the saving of lives, the reunification of a family and immigration to Israel.  Behind this operation are the dedication and expertise of the Jewish Agency and other organizations which contributed to success of the operation.”  He added, “The Jewish Agency is working to quickly bring to Israel all the Jews of Yemen who have expressed interest in making aliyah.”

The new Yemenite Jewish immigrants will be absorbed in a Jewish Agency absorption center in southern Israel, strengthening Jewish communities in peripheral areas the country.  According to data provided by the Jewish Agency, over 150 Yemenite Jews have made aliyah to Israel since 2009, when anti-Semitic incidents in Yemen began to increase.  This year alone, 45 Yemenite Jews have made Aliyah to Israel. 

Like in other parts of the Arab world affected by the Arab Spring, anti-Semitic violence has been a growing problem since the Yemenite President Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted in 2011.  Islamist terror groups like Al Qaeda are on the upswing in Yemen. The political instability creates an environment where radical Islam thrives, with devastating consequences for the country’s Jewish population.

In December 2008, Moshe Nahari, a Jewish teacher, was murdered.  In 2012, a leading member of the Yemenite Sanaa Jewish community, Aharon Zindani, was stabbed to death. In January, members of Yemen’s small Jewish community said that Yosef Anati, one of the communities’ members, was attacked and hospitalized in a serious condition.  It was these attacks which motivated members of the Jewish world to begin smuggling Jews out of Yemen.

Dr. Yigal Ben-Shalom, who heads the Association for Yemenite Society, Culture, Research and Documentation which preserves the heritage of the Yemenite Jewry, emphasized that it is critical that the Jews remaining in Yemen make Aliyah to Israel in the wake of the anti-semitic attacks occurring within the country, since their physical safety is threatened there. According to Jewish Agency estimates, fewer than 90 Jews remain in Yemen today and about half of them live in a guarded structure in Yemen’s capital, Sa’ana.

By Rachel Avraham, staff writer for United With Israel