Government recognizes suffering of Yemenite families, compensation given

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called this case “among the most painful in the history of the state of Israel.”

A family of Jewish immigrants from Yemen arrives at Lod Airport on the Operation Magic Carpet airlift, November 17, 1949 (photo credit: HANS PINN)

A family of Jewish immigrants from Yemen arrives at Lod Airport on the Operation Magic Carpet airlift, November 17, 1949

(photo credit: HANS PINN)

The government approved on Monday to officially recognize the suffering of Yemenite, Balkan and Mizrahi Jewish families who came to Israel in the 1950s and to offer them financial compensation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called this case “among the most painful in the history of the State of Israel” and said that it is time that families “who had their babies taken from them” would get both recognition and compensation. He added that it would be included in history classes offered to the country’s children in the future.

Finance Minister Israel Katz expressed his hope that this move would “begin to heal, even in a small measure, the pain of history” and called to honor the rich cultural legacy of Yemenite Jews.

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NIS 162 million would be ear-marked for compensation with NIS 150,000 given to families who were not told when or how their child died or buried and his grave was never found or found a long time after. NIS 200,000 compensation would be ear-marked for families who do not know to this day what happened to their child.

Families would be able to file requests starting from June.

In response, Union Sefaradi Mundial, a Jerusalem-based NGO devoted to the legacy of Sephardi Jews, said that “compensation by itself is not enough, the government must accept responsibility. The State of Israel has to these events of children who went missing.”

USM head Prof. Shimon Shetreet lost his own sister Sara when she was 10 months old.

“My own parents and the parents of other children would be turning in their graves had they known that after all these years, the State of Israel is still refusing to take responsibility,” he said.

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The compensation, USM said, are being offered as an act of generosity rather than admittance of guilt.

The claim of the Yemenite Jewish community and others that their babies were taken and given to adoption to other families, usually European Jewish ones deemed able to offer the children more chances in life, was hotly debated and dismissed as a “myth” for decades.

Rabbi Uzi Meshulam was arrested when police raided his home in 1994 after he and his followers, armed with guns, demanded the state investigate this issue.

Meshulam was arrested, spent time in prison and dismissed for many years as a radical with outlandish claims. He died in 2013.

Many Israelis who took part in the absorption efforts of Yemenite and other Jewish communities deny to this day that such a plan was in place.

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