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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 2 March 2021

Yemeni Jewish families under threat could be brought to UAE, says senior rabbi

Rabbi Dr Elie Abadie, who helped reunite a family in Abu Dhabi after more than 20 years apart, says more could be offered refuge

More members of Yemen’s Jewish minority could be brought to the Emirates to escape persecution from Houthis and offer them a safe haven in which to live, the UAE’s senior rabbi in residence said.

Rabbi Dr Elie Abadie’s spoke to The National weeks after the UAE reunited members of a Yemeni Jewish family who had been separated for decades, after most members fled danger in Yemen.

“We will probably see more initiatives because there are still people there who need to be rescued,” said Rabbi Dr Abadie.

He played a key part in this month’s operation and said the UAE government understood the importance of saving lives and people in distress.

We will probably see more initiatives because there are still people there that need to be rescued

Rabbi Dr Elie Abadie, Jewish Council of the Emirates

“Taking the position of senior rabbi here in the UAE, being someone who is going to represent the Jewish people, it places responsibilities [on me],” Rabbi Dr Abadie said.

He said it took the UAE government just two days to respond to his request on behalf of the family for safe refuge. Arrangements for transport and accommodation were made for family members in the UK and in Yemen before they could be brought to Abu Dhabi.

“It was all done in less than 10 days, they were very diligent about it,” he said.

The Chabib family had been separated for about 20 years, after most members fled Yemen for London in the late 1990s. Older members of the family remained in the north-western city of Saada, where they were harassed, shot and discriminated against by Houthi rebels for being identifiably Jewish.

Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE ambassador to the US and Rabbi Dr Elie Abadie. Jewish Council of the Emirates
Rabbi Dr Elie Abadie, senior rabbi in residence for the Jewish Council of the Emirates. Courtesy: Jewish Council of the Emirates

Houthis have threatened to end the presence of Jews and other minorities in the country since the insurgency arose in the 1990s, and renewed their intentions after taking over the capital Sanaa in 2014.

The UAE reunited the Chabib family by helping the elderly grandparents and an uncle travel from Yemen and cross numerous checkpoints to meet their relatives from the UK in Abu Dhabi.

The family's patriarch, Sulaiman Chabib, 75, said he was overwhelmed by the gesture.

"I now know what happiness truly is. My heart and eyes are full of joy,” he previously told The National.

epa08950864 Yemenis hold up banners reading in Arabic 'Allah is the greatest of all, Death to America, Death to Israel, A curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam' during an anti-US protest in Sana’a, Yemen, 20 January 2021. According to reports, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken has pledged to immediately review the US terrorist designation of Yemen's Houthi movement a day after Donald Trump’s government designated it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
Protesters in Sanaa hold banners that say 'Death to America, death to Israel, a curse on the Jews' after the US designated the Houthis as a terrorist organisation. EPA

Rabbi Dr Abadie thanked the UAE government for “safeguarding lives” and having respect for other faiths.

“[The UAE is] a role model for other countries in the region, and some have already followed. I believe that there will be more countries that will follow the route the UAE has taken,” he said.

Yemen still has a relatively small Jewish community, with Rabbi Dr Abadie estimating there were between 100 to 150 people left. The exact population is uncertain because of the ongoing conflict.

“Many of them are in hiding, given the military situation and the civil war, so we don’t have numbers,” he said.

“Some are caught up in an area where there’s a battle raging.”

The majority of Yemen’s Jewish community travelled to Israel, as part of a mass migration, or to the UK, but some were determined to stay in their home country.

However, Houthi-led persecution has made remaining in Yemen increasingly difficult, with the community vulnerable to violence.

Rabbi Dr Abadie said such violence against minorities would take generations to undo and told of the importance of teaching the values of tolerance and humanity.

“At the end of the day, we are all children of the same God and the only way we will bring success to the region is if we live in peace and tolerance and we help each other in finding this success," he said.

Updated: January 24, 2021 10:39 PM

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