I have deferred publishing this Post so as not to jeopardize the movement of Yemeni Jews to the West. As both UJC (in a bizarre "Briefing" yesterday) and, Maariv ( "[UJC]... Joined Forces with Anti-Zionist Hasidim and Convinced Yemeni Jews to Go to U.S., not Israel") and The Jerusalem Post ( "US Jewish umbrella pulls 110 Jews out of Yemen") have explored the UJC/Yemen/Satmar involvement, this commentary seems timely. (It should be noted that while UJC sent out a "Highly Confidential" e-mail to its Board on the subject, demanding that confidentiality, its CEO was being freely quoted on the subject in The Jerusalem Post.)
UJC stepped right into what it apparently believed are its "global responsibilities" in a manner that threatens the ultimate freedom of the surviving remnant of Yemeni Jewry. And it did so under the rubric of either "freedom of choice" or "we have no choice." The current outcome was so predictable and, in fact, was foretold.
It is apparent that over the past weeks, some one or two in UJC leadership determined to join hands with the virulently anti-Israel, anti-Zionist Satmar cult to "rescue" 110 Yemeni Jews and deliver them into the Satmar Rebbe's hands in Monsey, Rockland County, New York, by Pesach because either "they're coming anyway so what choice is there" or, more improbable, "the Yemenis should have freedom of choice."
Let Howard Rieger "explain"
"From: Rieger, Howard
To: Ruskay, John
Sent: Thursday Mar 05
Subject: Yemeni (sic) Jews
I have gleaned from my staff the following response to your questions about the emergency.
One is on the Yemen side. We are advised that the situation is bad there and is getting worse. While only one person from this community has been killed in recent months, more deaths are likely to occur as they have been threatened with guns, grenades etc. The other emergency is timing and situational and this is a spiritual and religious emergency.
The State Department decision on how to allocate these people will take place next Monday. The 110 Yemenite Jews will arrive here by Pesach. We would like to ensure that they remain within our community. Maybe that is less an emergency then the death they face in Yemen but the emergency is bad for us. If we won't do this resettlement, it places into significant question the entire rationale for us having a system of Jewish social services.
Stephan, Barry and William have been on several calls today relating to the budgeting and service delivery issues. Ron Soloway joined the first and David Mallach the second. We are working to have the budget for this to be more reasonable. Gail Magaliff from FEGS should have much more detail by tomorrow that incorporates more public benefits (TANF, SSI etc.) and cost expectations for Monsey into the budget. Rabbi David Neiderman should provide information by tomorrow on the cost of housing and other available services in Monsey.
The budget will be bifurcated into required services for the first 180 days after arrival (which is the legally obligated period for FEGS to provide services) and then other necessary expenses for the next six months (like rent which may be obligated for the full year). Rabbi Neiderman is also supposed to provide by then an estimate of the resources that the Satmar can bring to the table.
FEGS will use the remainder of the overseas grant through UJC that goes to NYANA (and now goes to FEGS) to support part of this budget. There is approximately $300,000 left in this year's grant. The budget for the legally obligated period of 180 days plus necessary costs that might extend for a year will hopefully be much less then the $2 million estimated in the last budget, hopefully it will be less than $1 million with further offsets from the UJC grant and funding from the Satmar. The costs of the flights to the US are initially borne by the State Department who provide interest free travel loans to the refugees. Our system would not be responsible for those costs.
We would hope that a number of the large cities would share in this expense and several have already indicated that they would likely be amenable to this ask (Cleveland, Detroit, Metrowest), but we have not yet sent information beyond those on this issue. The Rockland Federation leadership has also indicated it would try to be financially helpful.
While this does not answer every one of your questions, it does go some distance in trying to do so. In addition, Becky Caspi is working on this from the Israeli side, and there could be implications for the work there that will be borne by JAFI for those who will make aliyah, although that in no way affects the question that we are facing.
Finally, John, I would welcome the view of UJA federation regarding the next steps that might be taken.
It is clear that prior to Rieger's letter: (1) the Satmars had deployed their political clout to engage the State Department in pursuit of its goals; (2) found HIAS to be its willing accomplice; and (3) HIAS, having no money of its own (other than an endowment that it would not touch for this purpose), enlisted UJC as the money "partner" to bring these Jews to Monsey. UJC, eager to find its role, on its part (1) never advised its "partner," JAFI, or the Government of Israel of its intent to "partner" with the Satmar; and (2) ran with this ball with no consideration of the potential consequences to the Yemeni families who would soon be behind an anti-Israel, anti-Zionist wall in Kiryat Joel. This is, in form and substance, so typical of UJC under its current leadership: fail to consider the consequences of its acts; present the federation owners with a fait accompli; ignore any and all alternatives; and, maybe, then look for a way out.
In a Leadership Briefing today, UJC discussed none of this. The Briefing did state: "UJC/Jewish Federations (another new monicker, by the way) is committed to working collectively to help the Yemenite Jewish community find asylum as quickly as possible in Israel and the United States." Now, this has become a matter of "asylum." No mention was made of the new "partner" in any UJC-driven documentation. Why, exactly was that? I think we know.
The resettlement of Jewish refugees, particularly their rescue, is serious business, Jewish business. Pidyun shvuyim is our highest obligation as Jews and as communities. And, as a system, when issues of "freedom of choice" arose in the past, our organizations -- then, UJA and CJF and the NCSJ and JAFI -- and the Government of Israel joined together and, working as one, resolved the issues of aliyah to Israel and family reunification in America in a manner consistent with our values and our responsibilities. And 1,500,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union, Israel and our communities, were the beneficiaries. We wanted and want Jewish refugees to live in freedom, and the Jews from the FSU now do as was their choice. But, what of these Yemenite Jews and those who preceded them?
Today, if one can comprehend Rieger's turgid, almost incomprehensible prose above, UJC, having decided that the Jews of Yemen (based on representations by the Satmar representatives) are in danger, determined to partner with the most virulently anti-Israel, anti-Zionist Satmar sect to bring them to America -- where the Yemeni population may not even wish to go. If you believe Howard: "[T]he emergency is timing and this is a spiritual and religious emergency." (How those concepts intersect, I don't understand. More power to you if you do.) Even more urgent, per the CEO: "If we won't do this resettlement, it places into significant question the entire rationale for us having a system of Jewish social services." OMG, the hyperbole, the lack of rational nexus, the implicit threat. But Howard has had at least 6 senior UJC professionals in New York and Jerusalem at work on this matter (plus himself) beginning...when?--making the resettlement of 110 Yemenis into the Satmar Monsey shtetl UJC's highest priority for the moment-- for, were it not, by his screed, we shouldn't even claim a system of Jewish social services.
And who is Rabbi Neiderman and what is the Satmar Community? Much, and so little, are known of them. What is known should be of no comfort to those who would be their partners -- and puts the lie to those who argue that paying part of the cost (a substantial part) to resettle them in what is best characterized as an American ghetto with ultimately no chance at real freedom somehow equates to "freedom of choice." Here is what one source wrote:
"With more than 100,000 strong, the Satmar are the world's largest Hasidic sect. They follow an interpretation of Jewish law that is exceptionally strict even in the orthodox world. Their policy is of unrelenting anti-Zionism; like other ultra orthodox they don't recognize the State of Israel. However, unlike other extreme orthodox groups, they actively oppose its very existence." Have you got that? The Satmars oppose Israel's "very existence." Of this there is no argument. Rabbi Neiderman, UJC's (and, therefore, our) new "partner," has stated this on the record.
If you access http://www.ruthfilms.com/html/fs_in_satmar_custody.html
you will find the story of what happens to the Jews of Yemen in Satmar "custody" in America. It is an ugly picture of Yemenite Jewish families seduced by Satmar operatives (non-Jews, presumably paid a bounty) in Yemen to come to the United States with false promises of homes and cars and the golden medinah. 200 Yemenis in Kiryat Joel in Monsey, New York, have, we are told, been reduced to serfdom in a world that does not speak their language and a place that allows them no freedom. Compare that to the lives 10's of thousands of Yemeni Israelis now enjoy in the Jewish State -- lives initially harsh some 58 years ago, now filled with joy and total freedom, as with all Israelis. If you wish to see the ridiculous extreme the Satmar Rebbes have reached, see Bill Maher's Religulous...and the hugs exchanged in Teheran with the anti-Zionist Iranian President during his "Holocaust Denial Conference." Even the cynical Maher was reduced to disgust.
And, who is Satmar Rabbi David Niederman, UJC's newest "partner?" In his own words, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyHoZb3WIU8 for a taste of the extremism. Can our system turn its eyes away for the "larger cause?" Sure. Here's Rieger in the Post: "...as we have done time and again, our continental Jewish community heard the cries of Jews in need and is answering the call. We must not rest if even one Jew (is) in danger and we will work diligently with our partners in Israel and the US to assure the safe immigration, resettlement and absorption of our Yemenite family." The facts: we have put 110 Yemenite Jews in the hands of the Satmar, and we are the money people. What plans has UJC "...to assure the safe immigration, resettlement and absorption of our Yemnite family" you might ask. The answer is simple: we've turned 110 Jewish lives over to anti-Zionist, anti-Israel, ultra-Orthodox sect. to Rabbi Niederman and the Satmar. It is a plan that makes the blood boil.
Would Israel and JAFI bring this group of Yemeni Jews to Israel today? Certainly. In Israel, they would find shelter within a strong community of those who left Yemen before them, who speak their language. The Satmars' promises of airfare, cars, houses, and further embellishments (available only with subsidization by us or the non-Jewish VOLAGS -- voluntary resettlement agencies -- goes the argument), have raised the false expectations of 110 Yemeni Jews -- expectations that cannot be truly estimated but with with the financial assistance we, our "partner," the Satmar, and the U.S. State Department are offering, they will come. Yet, with all that being said, JAFI and the Government of Israel are prepared to bring the Yemeni Jews to Israel at no additional cost to our system...none. What is the Satmars' motivation? Perhaps the same as those of the sect who went to Iran to give support to the government there -- to embarrass Israel, to deprive the Jewish Homeland, for which the Satmars' hatred is unrelenting, of even a few more olim, just 110 more. And along with the seduction of these Yemenis, there came the apparent seduction of UJC's leaders.
There is no "blame" here -- other than on the Satmar. UJC and the few federations which will provide financial assistance, if any, are acting on a perceived humanitarian thesis -- one that might have proved to be, if due diligence had been done, had the circumstances, the seduction, the inducements, been fully scrutinized, fallacious. The federations joining UJC are responding to a wholly "...it's happening anyway so we should play a role" or a fallacious "freedom of choice" argument that with any real investigation would have evidenced that there is little if any freedom for Yemeni Jews who move from danger in Yemen to potential "captivity" in Monsey, America. Now, in the ever-changing UJC rationale, it is "asylum." But, the motives of UJC and the federations who parrot "freedom of choice" are pure even if without basis in fact. (In the era of the Soviet Jewry exodus, "freedom of choice" was rooted in family reunification, not the emigration of Jews from lands of distress to live behind a ghetto wall in Rockland County, New York, with our donors' financial aid.) There is legitimate concern that having engaged the cooperation of the U.S. Department of State in this effort, our organizational "credibility" might be at stake should we reverse course and insist these Jews make aliya to freedom in Israel -- a debate that should have occurred before the fact, not after it.. Others would suggest there is no "credibility" due us out of a process that delivers Jews into the hands of the anti-Zionists and Israel-haters among us with our dollars.
JAFI, characterized as our "partner" but not treated as such, is our agent for emigration/immigration but, if consulted on this UJC activity, it was after the fact. JAFI has been as reactive as has our American system. But JAFI immediately consulted with the Government of Israel (as UJC did not) and would bring these same Yemenis to Israel at no cost to our system...and without the embarrassment that will surely come (and already has) to our federations and UJC from supporting the Satmar sect in this effort. And, amazingly, a Senior UJC professional's due diligence consisted of calling a prominent member of the Orthodox community (who this pro thought, incorrectly, was a JAFI Board member), who said all will be well in Monsey. Remarkable, sad, ridiculous.
UJC has announced an "allocation" of $800,000 for this "resettlement" effort. As usual, with no process, no vetting of the budget apparently prepared by the Satmar. If the rumors are true, the CEO has been actively soliciting federations to provide those funds -- UJC having no room in its budget to do so. The question remains: in his solicitations, if any, has Howard urged the federations with whom he has been in contact not to reduce the JAFI/JDC allocation for this purpose? Or does he once again -- as in his prior solicitations for IAI, the ENP, etc. -- expect JAFI and JDC to foot the bill as KanferRieger wish JAFI and JDC to foot the bill for UJC's budget in whole or in part?
The use of federation dollars to support the activities of an ultra-Orthodox sect, even for pidyun shvuyim, should clearly have been a matter of broad discussion and greater debate. Such a debate might have offered the counterpoint to the issue of "credibility" with our State Department with our credibility with the Government of Israel. The entire episode is but a further example of what can happen to an organization whose leaders have been dedicated to destroying our collective memory, our institutional memory and the core values and timeless principles to which we have been (or is that now "had been") forever dedicated.
The Exodus from the FSU was a bright shining moment for American and World Jewry. The fate of these Yemeni Jewish families, even for a surface, noble purpose, will be a dark chapter if history is to be our guide. Dupes or heroes? Let us pray the latter. But, it just keeps getting worse and worse.