An Israeli official recently acknowledgted that "hundreds" of mostly Yemeni babies were kidnapped from their parents in the early years of the state of Israel, reopening allegations that as many as 5,000 Mizrahim Jewish newborns were given to childless Ashkenazi Holocaust survivors.
BDS and the Eternal Holocaust
Minister Tzachi Hanegbi’s comments, reported by Haaretz, refute the conclusions of three official commissions tasked with investigating the issue. Those panels concluded separately that most of the babies reported missing in the years following the creation of Israel in 1948 died of disease and were buried. The infants' families have largely rejected that assertion, arguing that their disappeared children were kidnapped and put up for adoption or sold without their knowledge.
But although Hanegbi’s comments represent the first time an Israeli official acknowledged the mass kidnappings—and may be a catalyst for reopening the investigation—his remarks have not offered much clarity about the missing babies.
“They took the children, and gave them away. I don’t know where,” Hanegbi said in an interview with the Israeli television program "Meet the Press." When pressed about the possible involvement of state officials and the government’s knowledge of the practice, he claimed “We may never know.”
The minister has been tasked with re-examining confidential archives of more than a million pages of materials compiled by the three expert commissions that previously investigated the disappearances. But it remains unclear if the state was complicit in the campaign, or if medical personnel were actively involved in kidnappings, and Hanegbi has so far not been forthcoming about the questions.
But many critics are more direct about the crux of the issue. Shoshana Madmoni-Gerber, author of the book “Israeli Media and the Framing of Internal Conflict: The Yemenite Babies Affair,” told Al Jazeera that whether the Israeli government actively organized kidnapping or simply turned a blind eye to an egregious problem, the “forcible transfer” of babies from one ethnic group to another amounted to “genocide” under the United Nations' guidelines, which deem “complicity in genocide” a punishable act under the 1951 convention.
Meanwhile, Israeli journalist Yael Tzadok, who has covered the issue for two decades, told Al Jazeera that the Yemeni babies crisis is “Israel’s darkest secret,” which could threaten “causing an earthquake” if the truth of the fact that “Jews kidnapped other Jews” in the wake of the Holocaust came fully to light.
Israel’s so-called Kedmi inquiry that looked into the case between 1995 and 2001 found that between 1,500 and 5,000 children went missing between 1948 and 1954. The disappeared infants included about one in every eight Yemeni babies born in Israel amid the influx of some 50,000 Yemeni Jews in the state’s first six years as part of Operation on Wings of Eagles immigration program, nicknamed Operation Magic Carpet. But according to Haaretz, the investigative commission showed “an absence of all suspicion” and failed to answer the key question of who was responsible for the mass disappearances of babies of Mizrahim parents—Israeli Jews originating from Arab countries—especially Yemenis.
An Al Jazeera investigation featuring stories of two of Israel’s stolen children revealed that the Ashkenazi parents deceived their “adopted” children for years, obscuring the truth about their birth. When the adopted children tried to find information about their biological families as adults, their adoption records were sealed, making it more difficult to unravel their mysterious stories.
Some analysts have linked the disappeared Yemeni baby scandal to a process of so-called “de-Arabization” in Zionist development in favor of privileging Ashkenazi families.
Remembering Latin America's Disappeared
The shocking history of Israel’s stolen children draws chilling parallels to the mass disappearance of infants in Argentina under the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
While Argentina’s kidnapping had less to do with racism and ethnic division, the forced disappearance of some 30,000 victims and kidnapping of hundreds of babies was part of a concerted U.S.-backed Dirty War that sought to stamp out resistance to the military government in what has been called a “genocide” against political dissidents. A generation of hundreds of missing children grew up in wealthy military and regime-linked families without knowing their true identities.
The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo—an iconic human rights organization that has fought for justice for dictatorship abuses since 1977 and has managed to reunite 120 stolen grandchildren with their biological families—has described the historic human rights crisis as the “abduction, concealment, and falsification of a baby’s identity under the framework of state terrorism.”
Argentina’s quest for justice for dictatorship-era crimes, including the mass abduction of children of political dissidents, has been long and arduous, and the dedicated activism of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo over the course of nearly 40 years has been a key pillar in raising national and international awareness about the historical abuses.
But unlike in Israel, where state officials have really just begun to vaguely acknowledge the reality of the dark past of stolen babies, Argentina’s official recognition of a state campaign of forced disappearances in the 1984 Truth Commission and the creation in 1992 of the National Commission for Right to Identity to focus on the search for missing children have also laid a critical foundation to even begin meaningful investigations.