Yemeni Jews Brought to Israel in Covert Operation

  • Jewish Agency says 17 people left Sana'a, Raydah on Sunday
  • No other members of community wish to leave Yemen, agency says

Seventeen Yemeni Jews were spirited out of their country to Israel in a secret operation Sunday night, said Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel that coordinated it.

The 17 and two others who arrived last week were the last Jews who wished to leave their war-torn country for Israel, Palmor said by phone on Monday. About 50 others, most of them elderly, declined the agency’s offer to emigrate and will remain in Yemen without an organized Jewish communal structure, he said. He called the operation “the end of the story” of the Jewish community in Yemen.

Channel 2 TV said the U.S. State Department was involved in the airlift, which first brought the Jews to an unidentified third country before Israel.

According to a Jewish Agency statement, attacks against Jews in Yemen have risen since 2008, when a teacher was murdered in the northwestern town of Raydah. As Yemen descended into civil war and the humanitarian situation in the country worsened, “the Jewish community has found itself increasingly imperiled,” it said.

The operation had been in preparation for months, said Palmor, who declined to disclose details. “They were living in a very hostile surrounding, and obviously actions to bring them out had to be secret,” he said. The agency has extracted about 200 Jews from Yemen in the last few years, he said.

A family of five came from the capital, Sana’a, and 12 others came from Raydah, including the community’s rabbi, who brought a 600-year-old Torah scroll. A grandfather of the Sana’a family was murdered in 2012 for being a Jew, and the Jewish Agency brought his body to Israel for burial, Palmor said.

The last arrivals mark the closing chapter in a tale of secret operations to bring Yemeni Jews to Israel. Shortly after the Jewish state was founded, close to 50,000 community members -- the overwhelming majority -- were brought in months of secret airlifts known as Operation Magic Carpet.

“From Operation Magic Carpet in 1949 until the present day, the Jewish Agency has helped bring Yemenite Jewry home to Israel,” Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said in the statement. “Today we bring that historic mission to a close.”

Most of the Jews who remain in Sana’a live in a closed compound near the U.S. embassy and enjoy the protection of Yemeni authorities, the agency said.

(An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Palmor’s title.)

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