Kudos to Asher Weisz, who is drawing the attention of Oxford University students to the ethnic cleansing of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The persecution of Jews in Yemen is the latest trigger. Article in Oxford Student: (with thanks: Eran)
Some of the last Jews of Yemen
With nowhere else to go, these dispossessed Jews sought refuge in the land of their forefathers, Israel. As of 2009, roughly 50% of Israel’s Jewish population was Sephardi and Mizrahi. Yet these are Jews largely unknown to Westerners.
One million Jewish refugees were driven from nine Arab countries and Iran during the 20th Century. The governments and peoples which pushed them out did not just aim to destroy their lives. They aimed to destroy the brilliant history of Jews in the region. Jews had lived in Iraq ever since Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonians exiled them from their homeland in the 6th Century BCE. There, the Farhud, a bloody Nazi-influenced pogrom in 1941, was an early episode in an ever-mounting persecution. The Farhud slew nearly 300 Jews and injured more than 2000. Sporadic violence made it impossible for Iraqi Jews to stay and initiated their flight to Israel.
When, in 1948, Iraq went to war with the new State of Israel, Zionism was criminalized, leading to further state-sponsored persecution. Yet more Jews fled to Israel in great numbers, until, in 1952, Iraq banned emigration. In 1969, nine men were hanged as an alleged “spy ring”. Today, there are fewer than ten Jews in Iraq. That is the story of just one community.
Similar stories unfolded in communities across the region, ruining lives and desecrating a unique culture. These were stories of thorough dispossession, usually sponsored and promoted by antisemitic states, hellbent on ridding themselves of the Jews. This is the story of Yemen too, a story of a once vibrant Jewish community, smashed to pieces in the 20th Century.
For millennia, perhaps as early as the time of King Solomon, Jews flourished in Yemen, despite prejudice and oppression. They developed a rich culture of their own. The 17th Century’s Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, for example, wrote a celebrated canon of 850 poems. He was revered by Jew and non-Jew alike.