Houthis in Yemen
Houthis in YemenReuters

As the Jewish community celebrates the Festival of Sukkoth (Tabernacles) and as part of the #FreeLeviMahrabi campaign, the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) and American Sephardi Federation (ASF) hosted a special webinar aimed at promoting awareness of the plight of the Jewish community in Yemen under Houthis rule. The discussion was titled “Death to America, Curse the Jews: Who are the Houthis?”

The panel brought together distinguished speakers who shed light on the little-known yet genocidal Iran-backed terrorist organization, the Houthis. They addressed the history of Yemen’s Jewish community, and the atrocities being committed daily against them.

Since coming to power, the Houthis have put the fate of the last of Yemen’s once 50,000-strong Jewish community at stake. During Passover this year, the Houthis expelled many of Yemen’s last remaining Jewish citizens, with the exception of a few including Levy Salem Mahrabi, who they have for four years illegally imprisoned and tortured on the charge of helping a Jewish family flee the country with one of the community’s historic Torah scrolls. The experts noted that freeing him was a matter of urgency.

Professor Paul Fenton, Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Studies at Paris-Sorbonne University, gave a background of the Jewish community in Yemen, and spoke of the treatment of Jews in Yemen historically, which he noted was based on some of the most stringent anti-Jewish Islamic laws with sporadic outbursts of violence against the community. He did however explain that there was remarkably a tradition of good relations between Jews and Arabs.

Professor Norman Stillman, the Schusterman/Josey Chair Emeritus of Judaic History and Founding Director of the Center for Judaic and Israel Studies at the University of Oklahoma, noted that while this was true, even before the Houthis took over, there was a rise in anti-Jewish attacks.

“Even before the takeover there were anti-Jewish incidents in Sana and elsewhere. A Jew was stabbed to death in 2012 in front of his children. In 2015, Jews were beaten in the Old City of Sa’ana. Jews who remained in the north were secretly evacuated by the US in 2009,” he said.

He explained that, “The battle cry of the movement is ‘God is greater, death to America, death to Israel, a curse upon the Jews, and victory for Islam’,” and added, “With that kind of inimical slogan, it is no wonder that there was persecution of the Jews” in the areas were the Houthi movement finds its roots.

He spoke of the clear Iranian influence in the Houthi movement, and said “Not only has Hezbollah provided ideological and moral support for Houthis, Iran itself has been a supporter of them – especially since 2015, supplying weapons, technical knowhow, and political capital. The Houthis drones and missiles that attacked Saudi Arabia were in fact of Iranian design.”

Speaking next was Dr. Arwa Al-Khatthai, President of the Broken Chair Organization for Mine Victims in Yemen, who noted that she was herself concerned over taking part in the discussion as she had family who remained in Yemen. She spoke of the hatred and violence by the Houthis, not just against the Jewish people, but against America and indeed other ethnic minorities in the country. She noted with sadness that the Houthi’s hateful slogan also failed to receive international condemnation.

“We talked to people in Europe, in Geneva, in the international community. It has been ignored that the Houthis have presented this hatred, this hateful slogan, this hatred and aggressive action against the Jewish people, against America, Christians, and other people. We need to help to bring this to the light, and to have the Houthis again put in the list of terrorist organizations,” she urged.

Rabbi Elie Abadie, Senior Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates and the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities, spoke of the events over Passover when the Jewish community were expelled, and of the impact of the Abraham Accords in opening up new diplomatic channels to help the Jewish community in Yemen and around the Gulf.

Mr. Jason Guberman, Executive Director of the American Sephardi Federation, spoke of the importance of advocating for the release of Mahrabi.

“Middle Eastern North African Jewish refugees, are frequently called the forgotten refugees of the last century,” he said. “The remaining Yemenite Jews are the refugees being forgotten in real time, in our time. Where was the outcry when most of Yemen’s last Jews were expelled to Egypt during Passover? Where were those who claim to stand for marginalized people and human rights? The Iranian-backed regime the Houthis are exploiting international sympathy and we cannot allow them to get away with this as they are the ones perpetuating Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and perpetrating mass atrocities.”

He urged, “Go to www.FreeLevi.org to sign the petition which is to be sent to world leaders, and learn more that can be done to help in this campaign.”