Sun 22 Aug 2010
The Economist is generally considered one of the better journalistic bright spots for periodical subscribers. The editors lean to the conservative side, but usually provide articles with the background and rationale to make informative reading. However, a short article released in the latest issue is misinformed and borders on propaganda. There is no byline, at least in the online edition I read, but the writer is poorly informed about Yemen. It is true that Yemenite Jews have suffered because of the political actions of Israel. Like most Arab nations, Yemeni Arabs tend to side with the plight of the Palestinians. Yes, they are exposed to a steady stream of anti-Zionist news, but the government itself has protected the Jewish community. Most Yemenis do not swallow the government propaganda whole and there is still a great deal of respect for the Yemenite Jewish tradition in Yemen. The distinction between “Jew” and “Zionist” does exist.
Even if the author visited Sanaa and Jibla, he has totally missed the amount of unrest among the population. To state “Yemenis rarely protest publicly against their own miserable circumstances at home” is quite naive. In the north various tribes routinely kidnap government officials or tourists as bargaining chips in protest against government action. In the south there have been major demonstrations against the government’s harsh policies for several years now, with a rising death toll of civilians. There have also been riots in Sanaa, the capital, over rising prices. All of this protest has nothing to do with Al-Qaida or Israel. Government officials no doubt insisted there were no protests; good journalists should avoid such obvious posturing.
The final quote from a Yemenite Jewish photographer claims that Jews who leave Arab countries for Israel do not consider themselves “Arab” anymore. I suppose this depends on what “Arab” means, but the traditional elements of Yemenite Jewish culture are very much part of a broader “Arab” tradition, including folklore and food. Yemenite Jews in Israel also chew qât, like their Yemeni “Arab” counterparts. To be sure it is hard to define an “Israeli” point of view, since the country is home to a myriad of cultural backgrounds. There is a long history of prejudice in Israel by Jews from European countries against those who come from Arab or Asian countries, as has been well documented. But to inflate the political differences, which are all over the spectrum within the state of Israel, with cultural identity only serves those who push propaganda on all sides. Nor should it be assumed, as an obvious fact, that all Yemenite Jews want to leave for Israel despite their difficult circumstances.
Here is the article:
Yemen’s dwindling Jews
The last of the Jewish Arabs
An ancient community is finally abandoning its Yemeni homeland
Bidding Yemen farewell
The Economist, August 19, 2010
THE government of Yemen and its people are vociferously anti-Israel. Three of the country’s members of parliament were on the aid flotilla to Gaza that was lethally raided by Israeli commandos at the end of May. They were later given a hero’s welcome home. Yemenis rarely protest publicly against their own miserable circumstances at home. But when tensions rise in Gaza, they happily hold parades in Sana’a, the country’s capital. Comedies on television often feature stupid Israeli soldiers outwitted by plucky Palestinians.
Yet Yemenis also say they appreciate the heritage of their country’s Jews. In the Great Mosque in Sana’a’s ancient city, a guard, whispering as pious men pore over Korans, points out Jewish carvings. In the village of Jibla, south of Sana’a, locals show the star of David on an ancient synagogue, now a mosque. Market traders boast that their wares are made of traditional Jewish silver. A stern police officer gives a permit to a Jewish-American to let him visit an old Jewish village.
The village may soon be no more. The last hundred or so Yemeni Jews are set to leave after more than two millennia in the country. A century ago some 50,000 of them lived more or less peacefully alongside the Muslim majority, now numbering 23m. Life became harder for them after the creation of Israel in 1948, with outbreaks of violence against Jews. Most were spirited out over the next few years in Operation Magic Carpet on American aircraft. A second, much smaller wave of around 1,200 of them were resettled in the early 1990s. A few hundred stayed on, largely in the northern province of Saada. After Houthi rebels eroded the government’s grip there in recent fighting, they were evacuated to a compound in Sana’a. As the perceived threat to them grows, Jewish-American and Israeli groups and American diplomats are trying to establish refugee status for them and then pay for their resettlement in the United States or Israel.
Their departure will be a milestone. Yemen’s Jews, who speak Arabic, hark back to a time when it was possible to have a shared Jewish and Arab identity. Elsewhere in the Arab world most Jewish communities have shrivelled. In Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad (where Jews were once the largest single community) numbers have shrunk to a handful of old folk keeping a nervously low profile. Yemen’s few hundred Jews were some of the last who preserved their synagogues and continued to conduct ceremonies in them. Zion Ozeri, a Jewish photographer of Yemeni descent who has documented the last of Yemen’s Jews, says that, for those who settle in Israel, there are “negative undertones” attached to being an Arab Jew. “In Israel or the diaspora, hardly any Jew considers himself of Arab culture.”
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