Fewer than 100 Jews are believed to be living in Yemen, and the number could soon drop to zero, as Houthi rebels fight to expand their control of the country.
The Houthis are Shia Muslims, supported by Iran, and their slogan, which now adorns the walls of Yemen’s capital Sana, makes clear their priorities: “God is great. Death to America. Death to Israel. God curse the Jews. Victory for Islam.”
Though Jews predate Muslims in Yemen by hundreds – possibly thousands – of years, most fled some time ago to Israel. The remnant still in Yemen, now under virtual house arrest and victims of intensifying persecution, are likely to try to follow.
It is a reminder of the crucial importance of Israel as a refuge for displaced Jews. Many who criticize the country for its treatment of Palestinians during its War of Independence forget that it subsequently took in nearly 600,000 Jewish refugees ethnically cleansed from the Arab world.
Christians should remember this when we look at the Middle East today. Few Jews are now living in the Arab world. How much longer will Christians remain?
For Christians are today being relentlessly persecuted throughout most of the region, though with one shining exception – Israel itself. In fact, Christianity is thriving in Israel, with the numbers of churches and believers growing (of course from a low base).
I recently interviewed US citizen and Israeli resident Lela Gilbert, author of “Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner,” and I asked if Israel might even become a refuge for Christians fleeing the ISIS onslaught in Iraq and Syria.
No, she said. Israelis are very sensitive to infiltrators, and a sudden influx of non-Jewish, Arabic-speaking refugees would surely provoke controversy. But she also pointed to a sad reality. Many Mideast Christians are quite anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish, and would themselves probably reject the notion of coming to Israel.
Historian Walter Russell Mead made this point in a recent Wall Street Journal article, where he noted that, as a survival strategy, Mideast Christians had over the years developed a strongly pro-Arab, anti-Zionist identity.
Perhaps this helps explain the recent decision of the Pope – misguided in my view – to embrace the Palestinian cause during a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Ignoring the growing links between ISIS and Hamas, which controls Gaza, he called for an independent Palestinian state.
Subsequently, the esteemed commentator David Goldman wrote:
“Judging from the opinion polls, [if free elections were held] a State of Palestine today would have a Hamas majority of about two-thirds, with substantial representation from elements of ISIS. Why would the Vatican wish this plague upon itself? If a Palestinian State rules the Old City of Jerusalem, the Christian holy sites will be razed by Muslim radicals, just as they were in Iraq. Christianity survives in Judea and Samaria because Jews are willing to die for Jerusalem. How many Christians are willing to die for Jerusalem? The Vatican should ponder this question.”
It is not just the Jewish remnant of Yemen who need Israel. It is, also, every Christian around the world who cares at all about the future of our faith in the land of its birth.