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Yemen’s Last Jews Escape to Israel in Covert Operation

TEL AVIV – The immigration of Yemenite Jewry to Israel ended this week with the country’s last 19 Jews smuggled into the Jewish state over the past few days, the Jewish Agency announced.

The organization’s spokesman Avi Mayer said that this week’s new arrivals mark the “historic end of Yemenite aliya [immigration to Israel].”

The spokesman added that around 50 Jews, who have expressed no desire to emigrate, remain under government protection in Yemen, a country enmeshed in a protracted civil war.

According to Mayer, the agency has “undertaken numerous covert operations to spirit Jews out of Yemen and bring them to Israel,” rescuing some 200 in recent years.

The final group arrived Sunday evening, including the rabbi of the town of Raydah, who brought along a Torah scroll believed to be more than 5,000 years old.

The remains of Aharon Zindani, a Yemenite Jew murdered over accusations of witchcraft in 2012, were also flown to Israel.

According to the Jewish Agency’s chairman Natan Sharansky, Sunday’s flight was “a highly significant moment in the history of Israel and of aliya.”

“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,” he said.

“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,” he added.

Around 51,000 Yemenite Jews have immigrated to Israel since 1948.

Anti-Semitic violence has been on the rise in Yemen in recent years. In 2008, Jewish teacher Moshe Nahari was murdered in Raydah and the same year a Jewish woman was forced to convert and marry a Muslim.

In January 2015, the Houthi terrorist group, whose slogans include “Death to Israel” and “Damn the Jews,” took over Yemen’s capital of Sanaa. The group had previously expelled Jews from the town of Saada in 2007.

“The Jews of Yemen are in great danger now,” said Michael Jankelowitz, a former agency spokesman, at the time.

Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, Mayer declined to comment on a Channel 2 report claiming U.S. State Department involvement, although Manny Dahari, who moved from Yemen to the United States a decade ago and whose parents were on Sunday’s flight, confirmed an American role in the rescue.

“It’s weird and emotional, especially since I have been working tirelessly with the State Department and Jewish Agency,” Dahari told the Post.

“It’s sad that Yemenite Jewish history has come to an end, but at the same time it’s exciting that they have come home.”

Stanley Urman of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries called it “another chapter in the continuing saga – the displacement of Jews from Arab countries – and Israel’s historic role as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Sarah Levin of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa said,

We praise the Jewish Agency for diligently working to assist the last Jews of Yemen, affirming the State of Israel’s important role in providing rescue and refuge to endangered Jewish communities in the Middle East and beyond. With far fewer than 75 Jews remaining in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, we feel a sense of sadness and loss as the gates of our pilgrimage sites, holy burial sites, cemeteries, synagogues, and Jewish quarters will be forever closed, marking an end to over 2,500 years of continuous Jewish history.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met with the immigrants on Monday, said that the State of Israel is committed to Jews living in “danger zones” who are seeking to make aliya. He added that seeing Yemenite children in Israel “moved me to the depths of my soul.”

“I am very excited to see you here. It is exciting that you know how to read the Torah. This is the foundation,” the prime minister told the new arrivals. “For many years we thought to bring you and with God’s help it worked out.”

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