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Islam and Human Rights ( 27 Apr 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Jews of Yemen face intimidation and discrimination

Foreign Affairs and Expatriate Ministries ignore plight of emigrating Jews

Mohamed Bin Sallam, Yemen Times

A workshop entitled “Jews of Yemen” that was held last Saturday in Sana’a condemned the intimidation and discrimination that Jews face in Yemen. The workshop was organized by the Women’s Forum for Studies and Training and by the online news website Al-Tagheer.


Attended by a number of human rights activists, the workshop called for a review of Yemeni constitution and laws that discriminate against Yemeni Jews. It demanded that the rights of the Jewish minority in Yemen are guaranteed as they are guaranteed to all Yemenis and to end all practices that violate these rights.


The workshop also called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Expatriates to deal humanely with Yemeni Jews who emigrate in the same way that they deal with all other emigrating Yemenis, and to give Jews all their rights as citizens. It also demanded that the two ministries follow up issues and concerns of Yemeni Jewish expatriates abroad and give them the opportunity to participate in all activities.


Participants further demanded that the Ministry of Endowments should direct Imams and other lecturers to urge people to renounce hatred and discrimination and to call for tolerance, stressing the important role that mosques have in spreading such important lessons.


Participants also called on civil society organizations to pay attention to the issue of Yemeni Jews, to stand up for their legal and constitutional rights, and to condemn any intimidation against them. They additionally called for school curriculums to be reviewed in order to eliminate the spread of hatred and discrimination against followers of other religions.


They recommended that Yemeni Jews be involved in more public activities and called on parties to involve more Jews and to cancel any regulations that violate this right. They demanded that parties work on disseminating the culture of tolerance and renouncing violence through non-governmental organizations and media. Enhancing the role of media and highlighting principles of democracy for all people of the country, regardless of their religion, were also recommended.


Participants further recommended the government demand Yemeni Jews living abroad to return to Yemen and to facilitate their return. They said that the government should work on highlighting the right to a decent life for all Yemeni Jews and should guarantee their involvement in political and administrative work. They called on the Ministry of Expatriates not to ignore Yemeni Jews abroad who hold the Yemeni citizenship.


Around 32,000 Yemeni Jews left the country during the two past decades due to difficult conditions thrust upon them in Yemen. Approximately 17,000 of them settled in the US, 7,000 thousand in Britain, and around 8,000 in Canada and other European countries. All of these Jews hold Yemeni passports and IDs but were forced to accept other citizenships due to the lack of humanitarian treatment received from Yemeni embassies abroad. Their “invalid” Yemeni passports are not renewed and judicial and social issues in the countries they immigrated to are ignored by Yemeni embassies abroad, according to many Yemeni Jews.


The “Jews of Yemen” workshop aimed to shed light on the Jewish minority in Yemen and their rights they should enjoy as Yemeni citizens. It also aimed to discuss the issue of Yemeni Jews from a humanitarian perspective as members of Jewish community in Yemen are subjected to human rights violations.


Participants in the workshop included seven members of the Jewish community in Raida and Kharef districts of Amran in addition to Jews from the Al-Salem area in Sa’ada who have been living in Sana’a. Jews from Sa’ada were transferred just over two years ago due to the war in the area. “We demand that the government provides us with protection as our lives are in danger,” said Rabbi Hayeem Ya’eesh, demanding that directives from the president of Yemen be carried out concerning the protection of Yemeni Jews.

For his part, Rabbi Yayha Yusuf of Sa’ada commended the efforts and directives of President Ali Abdullah Saleh with regard to tackling problems that Jews recently encountered, even though they haven’t been carried out yet. “We will never renounce our homeland despite tempting offers to emigrate. Our homeland is precious, no matter what the conditions,” said Yusuf.


Sheikh Jabri Ibrahim, manager of The Guidance Circle in Sana’a, said that members of the Jewish community in Yemen are a part of Yemeni culture and history. “We will never renounce our home,” he said, explaining principles of tolerance that Islam, the holy Quran, and the sayings of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) include.


Secretary General of Al-Haq Party Hassan Zaid expressed his sorrow for “what befell brother Jews in Sa’ada who were obliged to leave their homes although they were among the first to live in this country.


“Jews in Yemen were the first community to live in Yemen before Islam,” Zaid continued. “They lived in Yemen and their conditions changed according to the areas where they were living. There were some cases of discrimination against them but they lived securely.


“I don’t condemn one side and clear another,” he added.” Jews are victims of a conflict. Hussein Al-Houthi [Abdul Maled Al-Houthi’s father] was accused of Jews fighting with him in the beginning of 2004. After that, the lives and security of Jews were threatened,” said Zaid. He further held all sides of the conflict in Sa’ada responsible for what is going on against the Jewish population.


Mohammed Al-Mawri, Vice-Director of Public Relations in the Ministry of Interior, confirmed that protecting members of the Jewish community in Yemen is part of protecting the country as a whole and that the issue shouldn’t be looked at solely from a humanitarian perspective. He said that the Ministry of Interior is in contact with members of the Jewish community and others who are concerned with Jewish issues. He pointed out that the ministry doesn’t intervene in the verdicts and decisions of the judiciary authority which does not discriminate in judicial cases.


Abdul Baqi Shamsan, Professor of Sociology at Sana’a University, said that “discussing the issue of Jewish immigration and intimidation against them shouldn’t be dealt with solely as a Jewish issue. Rather, it should be handled within the context of the concept of citizenship and the modern state that should renounce violence.”


Shamsan criticized traditions that deal with issues in a way that makes people equal to a group of oxen or animals, according to him. He further stressed the importance of the government properly protecting its citizens, pointing out that the government is responsible for providing Jews with protection.


Adel Al-Sharjabi, another Professor of Sociology at Sana’a’ University, said that Jewish issues in Yemen shouldn’t be used as bargaining chips for political and social biddings. “We should relinquish the Jizyah [the Islamic tax or tribute imposed on non-Muslims living under an Islamic state] as it should be imposed only when there is no state, such as when defense is the duty of the group and not the state,” said Al-Sharjabi. “Remaning under terms of the Jizyah in contemporary political terms is shameful.”


The workshop reviewed a main paper presented by Mahmoud Taha, a journalist specializing in the affairs of the Jewish community in Yemen. Entitled “Jews of Yemen… Holding on the home and motivations of immigration and transfer,” the paper included a historical introduction about the history of Jews in Yemen and their origins and genealogy. It also reviewed the historical reasons for Jews’ emigration from Yemen as well as the aggressions that they were recently subjected to.


The workshop is considered the first of its kind in Yemen to discuss the issue of a religious minority. It witnessed extensive media coverage and participation.