(JNS.org) The ancient Jewish presence in Yemen may soon come to an end as fears grow among the country’s few remaining Jews over a deteriorating security situation there.
“Since last September, our movements have become very limited for fear of the security situation, and there are some members of the community who preferred to leave Yemen,” Yemenite Chief Rabbi Yahya Youssef told Reuters.
Yemen has been plagued by political and security instability since last month’s resignation of pro-Western president Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and the takeover of the capital of Sanaa by Shi’a Muslim Houthi militias. The former government had been a key U.S. ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP), a Sunni Muslim terror group that is also in conflict with the Houthis.
The Yemenite government had provided protection to the country’s tiny Jewish community, whose members had until recently lived for centuries in the northern highlands with Yemen’s Shi’a Muslims, but were evacuated in 2009 amid anti-Semitic attacks by Houthi fighters.
“We don’t want to leave. If we wanted to, we would have done so a long time ago,” Yahya said.
At one time, Yemen’s ancient Jewish population stood at around 40,000, but many left to go to Israel when the Jewish state was created in 1948. Up until a few years ago, around 200-300 Jews remained in Yemen. Those numbers now stand at less than 100.
“There are certainly discussions going on over options available regarding the Yemenite Jews,” an Israeli official told Reuters, citing security concerns of the community.
“But these are individuals who will have to make their own individual decisions about what to do,” the official added.