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Israel's liberal paper whitewashes the disappearance of Yemenite children

In the 1950s thousands of babies, children of mostly Yemenite immigrants to lsrael, were allegedly taken away from their parents and given up for adoption to Ashkenazi families. Now an investigative report by Haaretz reveals dozens of Ashkenazi children also disappeared, arguing that the crime was not racially motivated.

Yemenite children's affair.

On Friday morning, Haaretz readers woke up to find that the newspaper had decided to dedicate its lead story to a piece titled “Dozens of Ashkenazi Babies Mysteriously Disappeared During Israel’s Early Years.” The article, written by Ofer Aderet, was labeled as an exclusive investigatory piece that tells the story of Ashkenazi families whose children disappeared during the early 1950s.

On paper  the article is yet another layer in the thorough investigation by the liberal newspaper vis-à-vis the stories of the children – the vast majority of them Yemenite – who were disappeared during the first years of the state.

One may wonder about the Haaretz’s decision to frame the piece as an “exclusive,” since the Kedmi Commission, which convened in 1995 to investigate what came to be known as the “Yemenite Children’s Affair,” found 30 cases of disappeared children belonging to new immigrants from the U.S. and Europe. But this is a minor issue – publishing interviews with the families of disappeared children is an important contribution to exposing one of the most horrifying chapters in Israeli history, one that the establishment has done its very best to try and bury.

‘Just like the Yemenite children’

Perhaps this is the reason why it was so depressing to discover that, along with exposing another important piece of this tragic puzzle, Aderet’s article seems to contain a hidden agenda: by claiming that “this was done to everyone,” we see an attempt to erase the racial component of the crime.

Orna Klein, an Ashkenazi Israeli whose sister disappeared and who now collects information on disappeared Ashkenazi children, told Aderet the following:

When I tell my story to families of Yemenite immigrants, they tell me, ‘What, you too, the Ashkenazim, they took babies? No way.’ This was not racism by Ashkenazim against Sepharadim, but the condescension of veterans against newly-arrived immigrants. They treated them here as if they were from the diaspora. They humiliated them because they dressed differently and didn’t know the language. My parents hated Mapai [the ruling party that founded the State of Israel – o.n.] just like the Yemenis hated Mapai.

Nurses and mothers taking care of Yemenite children, Rosh Ha'ayin, 1949. (photo: GPO)

Nurses and mothers taking care of Yemenite children, Rosh Ha’ayin, 1949. (photo: GPO)

Just like the Yemenis. This, it turns out, is the bottom line with which Aderet hopes to leave his readers. The author of the piece himself wrote the following on his Facebook page: “Ashkenazim also disappeared from hospitals during the founding of the state. How many? Dozens, at the very least. Under what circumstances? Just like the Yemenis. And why is it different? Because they were Holocaust survivors and some of them lost their families and children before even making it to the promised land.”

Aderet goes even one step further than Klein: If Orna Klein believes ethnicity plays no role and all the victims are in the same boat, then he is convinced that Ashkenazim whose children disappeared are becoming more victimized than Yemeni families. Why? Because of the Holocaust.

Aderet’s use of the Holocaust for the sake of competition between the victims is foolish, but out of respect for those who perished I prefer not to expand too broadly on this issue. With that, two notes:

Aderet writes that, at the very least, dozens of Ashkenazi children were kidnapped from their families. That is, he assumes the number of testimonies by Ashkenazi families that reached the Kedmi Commission were partial – maybe even a small fraction – of the total number of children kidnapped. If so, why not assume that the number of Yemenite children who were kidnapped is significantly larger than what we see in testimonies (according to Rabbi Uzi Meshulam, who waged a campaign to expose the Yemenite Children’s Affair in the 90s, the number could reach up to 1,700). Even according to the most conservative estimates we are talking about several hundred Yemenite children. So how could anyone claim that the two cases are the same?

Erasing someone else’s tragedy

But Aderet’s most important comment relates to the circumstances under which these disappearances took places – the same ones he believes affected Yemeni immigrants. In the name of the “holy symmetry” between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, the author erases the historical, social, and political context in which this terrible crime took place. He denies the existence of the sick mentality among both the enablers of the crime and those who carried it out – the same ones who viewed Jews from Islamic countries as barbarians who needed to be trained, even before they ever stepped foot in the country. Do we really need to remind ourselves of the words of Abba Eban?:

One of the great apprehensions which afflict us is the danger of the predominance of immigrants of Oriental origin forcing Israel to equalize its cultural level with that of the neighboring world. We must not view the immigrants from Eastern countries as a bridge on our way to integration in the Arabic-speaking world; we must imbue them with a Western spirit, and not let them drag us toward the unnatural Orient.

And is there any need to quote Arye Gelblum, who published an article in Haaretz in 1949 using the following language?:

This is a race unlike any we have seen before. They say there are differences between people from Tripolitania, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, but I can’t say I have learned what those inferences are, if they do, in fact, exist. They say, for example, that the Tripolitanians and Tunisians are “better” than the Moroccans and Algerians, but it’s the same problem with them all… The primitiveness of these people is unsurpassable. As a rule, they are only slightly more advanced than the Arabs, Negroes and Berbers in their countries… The [North] Africans bring their ways with them wherever they settle. It is not surprising that the crime rate in the country is rising… above all there is one equally grave fact and that is their total inability to adjust to the life in this country, and primarily their chronic laziness and hatred for any kind of work.

In light of these remarks (and countless others like them), as well as the numbers of disappeared children, is it in any way moral to make these kinds of comparisons?

Jewish immigrants from Yemen at a camp near Rosh Ha’ayin. (Photo: GPO)

Jewish immigrants from Yemen at a camp near Rosh Ha’ayin. (Photo: GPO)

Whether or not he intended to do so, Aderet’s article lends credence to those who deny Mizrahi oppression. Here are only a few of the sarcastic responses he received on his Facebook page:

“No!!!! No!!!! No!!!! Soon they will find out that Ashkenazim were also in the ma’abarot [transit camps for new immigrants set up during the founding of the state, mostly populated by Mizrahi immigrants]. Soon they’ll find out that Ashkenazim were also sprayed with DDT. That they were also sent to development towns. No!!!!!! We cannot take away the fuel which powers the hate of a few Mizrahim. It’s not allowed.”

“How dare they! Once more the Ashkenazim are ruining the Mizrahi narrative.”

“Ofer, you decided to erase the only advantage Mizrahim had over Ashkenazim?”

I read these responses and wonder what are the mechanisms that prevent people from respecting the pain of other people without using it to erase tragedy. What in these people’s minds turns this story into a zero-sum game, in which recognizing the obvious racist component of kidnapping children suddenly turns Mizrahim into “crybabies,” which in turn leads to violent tribalism? Even Amram, the Israeli NGO that works to bring to light testimonies of families whose children disappeared, does not deny Ashkenazi children were kidnapped. On the contrary, members of the organization interviewed Ashkenazi families and have published their testimonies on their website.

The crime of kidnapping and disappearing children during the first years of the state was a racist one. A crime against Mizrahim, mostly Yemenite children, who were viewed by the establishment as human dust. This crime also had Ashkenazi victims. We must recognize this fact, and it is a good thing that these testimonies are being exposed. Instead of turning these testimonies into ammunition for Israel’s ruling class, which is trying to silence the voices of its victims, we ought to add them to the long list of people who have for years been fighting to bring to light all the information on this crime. In order to bring about justice, even the slightest bit of it, for both its Mizrahi and Ashkenazi victims.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Lewis from Afula

      So, when the State of Israel was just a few years old, thousands of babies disappeared. Could it be simply that these babies died in hospitals but the records were not made?
      In the early 1950s, Israel was a 3rd World socialist Country with severe rationing, refugees living in Maabarot and border wars. Its not impossible that the records were not made amidst the chaos and poverty.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bernie X

      There should be a rule that 972+ rehashes this old story once a year, and no more.

      Reply to Comment
    3. R5

      Arrrgggghhh, why won’t Haaretz just go with the whole divide and conquer thing??? Come on guys!!! Let’s get the world to hate Israel because the white Jews were mean to the brown Jews (but remember not to tell anyone the brown Jews are actually the most right-wing and most fiercely Zionist now, because that would hurt our strategy)

      Reply to Comment
    4. Albertros

      No, this would suggest that this wasn’t borne our of Ashkenazi malice and inherent evil tendencies, Orly Noy cannot possibly accept that answer it conflicts with her raison d’etre.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      R5: Haaretz and especially +972 have been much more intelligent and insightful about white versus brown than this. The issue of white versus brown seems to be a much deeper and more persistent and in fact larger-strategy-driving issue in Israel than your words would reflect. Israel seems to have severe problems with a seemingly foundational racism from top to bottom that is both white/brown and Jewish/Gentile-based:

      The Israeli minister who bullies migrant children
      Avidgor Lieberman’s mobilization of right-wing MKs for such a contemptible cause – cutting off modest assistance to children in need – sets a new record for the government’s dehumanization of the asylum seekers.


      Moreover, your words are of a classic hasbara mentality: What matters is not what the Jews do, but what the Goyim are told about it.

      Reply to Comment
    6. R5

      Ben: Accusing me of Hasbara is Anti-Semitic. I don’t work for the State of Israel or any program funded by any Zionist organization. I am a private individual expressing a personal opinion. You could have called my comment reductive, or misguided, but you chose “Hasbara” and there’s no mystery why. Shame on you. If you really feel comfortable making insinuations about people you disagree with being part of or working in concert with a Jewish or Zionist organizations without knowing anything about them, you are lost.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben

      No way, R5. Look, I think your comment was reductive and misguided too but it was also of a classic hasbara mentality and it matters not one whit that you are a “private individual” and not, let’s say, Minister Gilad Erdan. In the opinion you expressed I read a hasbara mentality. Lurking in your aggressive insinuation about my motives is the idea that a hasbara mentality is not something a “private” individual is capable of absorbing or having. Where did you get that idea and on what is it based? I’m curious. And even if one accepts the premise that “hasbara” can only be applied to Israeli state sponsored initiatives–I don’t–where did you get the idea that hasbara is a specifically Jewish not an Israeli thing? That’s your idea, not mine. So who then is being anti-Semitic? And if you express an idea but do not belong to “a Zionist organization” does that mean it can’t be hasbara? The questions multiply. If you can’t convincingly explain these things then I take your insinuation as nothing more than a hostile interpretation that does not rise above an ad hominem attack. Moreover, it’s a nice distraction from answering the issues about racism. That, distraction, is the main technique of hasbara.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Carmen

      The zionist enterprise has used divide and conquer to achieve their means. They also needed to bring in as many people as possible to displace and remove the Palestinian people. Mizrahki and Sephardim have been despised since the creation of the zionist enterprise, they were/are considered inferior to their Ashkenazi counterparts. A very concerned, disgusting effort was made to pry infants from their parents and begin a system of teaching self-hate to the unfortunate Mizrahki and Sephardic children, but it couldn’t be done with them living with their birth parents; they had to be removed and placed with Ashkenazi parents to reinforce what they were being fed – self-hate and hatred of Palestinians. The americans did it to the indigenous tribes (after exterminating most of course), the australians with the aboriginals, etc. It’s time the zionists fess up.

      Reply to Comment
    9. R5

      Ben: explain or define “Hasbara mentality” for me – I’m really curious to see what you think this means.

      Reply to Comment
    10. R5

      Ben: you’re trapped here, and I think you see it. Hasbara is an activity, like running or talking on the phone. That’s how the Wikipedia page you cited defines it. Its the act of engaging in propaganda on behalf of the State of Israel. Sure, let’s say that a private individual can engage in Hasbara. But surely that cannot mean they everyone who makes any argument in Israel’s favor, or disparages Israels critics (as I did), is engaging in “Hasbara”, does it? The word is used much more selectively than that by anti-Zionists. So the real question is what criteria accounts for this selectivity? The obvious answer is that someone being Israeli, or Jewish, or having some connection to a Jewish/Israeli propaganda effort or organization accounts for this. You still have not offered an alternative explanation. In fact, you have dug yourself deeper, saying I have a “Hasbara mentality”, which is to ascribe a personal quality to me. What gives someone this quality? Does EVERYONE who makes an argument in Israel’s favor have a “Hasbara mentality”, or is it something else? Let’s get to the bottom of this.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ben

      Against ‘hasbara’: Explaining ourselves to death
      The Israeli obsession with showing ‘our side’ of the story not only guzzles financial and human resources — it is a conscious attempt to distract the world from policies of occupation.

      Reply to Comment
    12. R5

      Ben: I read the article – still don’t see how it frames the meaning of “Hasbara” (as you’ve used it against me) in a way that refutes my explanation – that you used it as an anti-Semitic slur. Thanks for the concession. If you’re going to deploy nasty anti-Semitic insinuations going forward, you’ll have to be more clever to avoid this sort of embarrassment.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Ben

      That’s ok. Others can see it. I’m not responsible for you not seeing the plainly evident. This is a circular go-around, with you ramping up the baseless personal invective each time but never achieving an argument. Mere trolling.

      Reply to Comment
    14. R5

      Ben: name calling, pretty desperate. Now I guess you know that Jew-baiting “Hasbara” slurs won’t fly. Glad we’re in agreement about that. You clearly knew what you doing all along but now you know you’ll be confronted. Progress.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Ben

      Transparent nonsense, R5. You’re just an incorrigible troll. Stop cluttering up the boards with this crap. You’re on permanent “ignore” status, except if I feel like not ignoring you to make a larger point. The emergence of trolls from months-long hibernation–is it like the return of locusts? Like the seasonal mating habits of slugs?

      Reply to Comment