Israel Welcomes 19 Yemeni Jews After Secret Rescue

Nineteen Yemeni Jews, among the last of their community living in that war-torn country, arrived in Israel after a secret rescue mission on Sunday night.

The rescue of the Jews, who have been increasingly imperiled by the civil war in the country and the rise of anti-Semitic jihadi groups, was reportedly coordinated by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the U.S. State Department. The rescue was especially surprising as Israel has no diplomatic relations with Yemen and the United States closed its embassy in the country when the war began, while Saudi Arabia, which Israel also has no formal relations with, has imposed a blockade on Yemen.

Approximately 50 Jews remain in Yemen, 40 of them in a government-protected compound in Sana’a. Several hundred Jews have been rescued from Yemen in the past few years, including several dozen in recent months, the Jewish Agency announced. Anti-Semitism and violence against Yemeni Jews has increased since the 2008 murder of Jewish teacher Moshe Ya’ish Nahari. The family of Aharon Zindani, who was killed what was believed to be an anti-Semitic attack in 2012, were among those brought to Israel, accompanied by Zindani’s remains. Also on the trip was Rabbi Saliman Dahari, who brought a Torah scroll that is believed to be between 500 and 600 years old.

“This is a highly significant moment in the history of Israel and of aliyah,” Jewish Agency chairman said in a statement. “From Operation Magic Carpet in 1949 until the present day, the Jewish Agency has helped bring Yemenite Jewry home to Israel. Today we bring that historic mission to a close. This chapter in the history of one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities is coming to an end, but Yemenite Jewry’s unique, 2,000-year-old contribution to the Jewish people will continue in the State of Israel.”

Nearly 50,000 Yemeni Jews arrived in Operation Magic Carpet, and they and their descendants have played prominent roles in Israeli society, including singer Ofra Haza, Olympic medalist Shahar Tzuberi, and former Knesset Speaker Yisrael Yeshayahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted the new Israelis. “Welcome to Jerusalem, to the Land of Israel,” he told them. “I am very excited to see you here. It is moving that you know to read from the Torah. This is the basis. For many years we have thought about bringing you and with God’s help it is over.”

A video of Netanyahu greeting them and briefly reading from the Torah scroll is embedded below.

[Photo: Haim Zach / Flash90 ]