“There is no place like Yemen. Not in America, not in Israel. It’s just not the same. When the people of Yemen say, “We don’t want a single Jew here,” I will go, but until that day, Yemen is my home and that is where I will stay.”
Rabbi Yahya Youssef Musa Marhabi uttered those words in 2010. That fateful day came in late March 2021 for him and 12 other Jews: they were driven out by the Houthi Iranian-backed Islamists who have taken control of the north of the country and whose slogan is “Convert or die.” The rabbi’s departure signals the end of a 3,000-year-old community. Just six Jews remain in war-torn Yemen: an old woman, her crazed brother and three others in Amram province. (One man, Levi Salem Marhabi, is illegally in jail.) Some reports say that the last Jews agreed to leave as a condition of Levi’s release, but there is no guarantee that he will be freed.
The 13, from the Zindani, Habib, and Marhabi families, have arrived in Egypt where they will find no more Jews than now remain in Yemen. The group refused an offer to go to Israel by way of the port city of Aden, which is controlled by the Southern Transitional Council, supported by the United Arab Emirates. Some people are exasperated with the Yemeni Jews’ obstinacy, for it is not as if they did not have multiple opportunities to leave.
The group, which had already been forced out of their homes in the north of Yemen and their property stolen, would have preferred to resettle in the UAE, which has taken in three Jewish families from Yemen over the last year, but this was impossible for unspecified reasons. It is thought that some among the 13 did want to go to Israel, but “an influential member” of the group was against the idea.
I would wager that the “influential member” was Rabbi Yahya Youssef. He has heard reports of scantily-clad women in Israel and fears that Yemenite Jews will not be able to cling to their traditional, pious way of life.
The scholar SD Goiten once described Yemen’s Jews as the most Arab and Jewish of Jews. Rabbi Yahya has insisted that he is Arab before he is Jewish. He has bent over backward to show his willingness to integrate into Muslim Yemen. He has tried to fight for Jews to have seats in Parliament, said that Jewish children should go to Muslim schools, and even said he believed in Muhammad as much as Moses.
There is a name for this kind of behavior: Stockholm syndrome, or to use a word familiar to the Jewish-Muslim lexicon, dhimmi syndrome. Dhimmi describes not only the subjugated status of Jews and Christians under Islam, but a survival strategy employing flattery and appeasement.
Beleaguered Jews in Arab or Muslim countries have long expressed their hostility to Israel and loyalty to their countries of birth. Where has it got them in the long run? A one-way ticket out of the country. There are no communities left in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Libya or Algeria. In Iraq, a Jew died recently, bringing the number down to three.
It is heartening that countries like the United Arab Emirates and Morocco have chosen a different path, “normalizing” with Israel and encouraging the growth of local Jewish communities. But where are the expressions of consternation, where are the protests, the petitions, the governments and NGOs calling out those Muslim countries which have ethnically cleansed their Jews? The silence is deafening.
Lyn Julius is a journalist and co-founder of Harif, an association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the UK. She is the author of ‘Uprooted: How 3,000 years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab world vanished overnight.’ (Vallentine Mitchell)