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      Yemenite Jews Refuse to Leave

      The tiny Yemeni Jewish community says there is no fear, despite political upheaval that threatens their presidential benefactor.
      By Chana Ya'ar
      First Publish: 3/31/2011, 11:09 AM / Last Update: 3/31/2011, 12:17 PM

      The tiny Jewish community of Yemen is not afraid and does not feel compelled to flee the political upheaval wracking their country.

      Despite calls from concerned relatives and friends living abroad, Yemeni Jews say there is no threat to their lives.

      Jewish organizations in Israel and the United States have also reached out to the community, which is comprised of some 250 people. Most of the Jews live today in the capital, San'a, although a few -- who receive financial aid from the Satmar Chassidic group -- still live in Amran and Raida.

      Nevertheless, “they absolutely will not budge,” said the head of a Jewish group trying to persuade the Jews to leave, who requested anonymity. “Even calls from Yemenite rabbis who once lived there and have left have been unsuccessful.”

      Despite this, a small number of Jews in Yemen do appear to be making contingency plans to leave, according to the source. As in Tunisia, the Yemeni border is “completely open,” the Jews say, and they are “free to leave” anytime they want – at least for now.

      Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has long enjoyed a warm relationship with the country's Jews and has in the past protected them when necessary.

      At the start of 2009, Yemeni Jewish leader Rabbi Moshe bin Yahya bin Ya'aish al-Nahari was murdered in the grand market in Amran. The killing, which drew widespread international condemnation, prompted the president to order the Jews evacuated from the city.

      Saleh arranged for the 50 families to each receive a plot of land in an area east of the capital, San'a. He also allocated to each a grant of $10,000 with which to rebuild their households.

      He arranged a similar transfer for the Jews of the Bani Salem district in Sa'ada governorate after they were harassed by Houthi followers earlier in the year.

      However, Saleh's 32-year reign is nearly done; protesters have been calling for his ouster since the end of January.

      Earlier this week, he met with Islamist opposition forces to work out a compromise that will allow him to hang on to his seat at least until elections are held.