Bioethics News

The bleak story of Israel’s Yemenite children

Yemenite immigrants in a camp in 1950     

Stealing children from feckless mothers so that they will have great expectations in the home of a loving, educated couple seems to have been a common practice in the early 20th Century. In Australia, Canada, Spain, Ireland, and Argentina scandalous tales of baby-snatching have emerged in the media.

Less well-known are allegations from Israel. In what has become known as the Yemenite Children Affair, hundreds of babies and toddlers of new arrivals, mainly from Yemen, between 1948 to 1954, were taken from their parents. Mothers were told that their newborn had died; sometimes the children simply disappeared. Stories have surfaced in the media over the years, but the complete history of what happened has not been told, as vital documents have been classified by the government.

This year gut-wrenching memories have again surfaced as activists demand the truth. A cabinet minister tasked with the investigation, Tzachi Hanegbi, now admits that between 1,500 and 5,000 children, mainly Yemenis, were kidnapped and given to Ashkenazi parents. “They took the children, and gave them away. I don’t know where,” he told a TV program. But it is still unclear whether the children were stolen with the connivance of the government. “We may never know,” Hanegbi says.

“The issue of the Yemenite children is an open wound that continues to bleed in many families who do not know what happened to the babies, to children that disappeared, and they are looking for the truth,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said earlier this year.

According to The Times of Israel, this has been “the largest cover-up in the history of the State of Israel”.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.