In this presentation, I examine the struggle over the meaning of the Yemenite Children Affair—the disappearance of hundreds to thousands of children of Jewish immigrants from Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries in the 1950s—through the interplay of various actors’ claims to archival authority. I interpret the multiple aggregations of information about the Yemenite Children Affair as both forms of state control and repression, and as a tools of communal empowerment and resistance. My analysis supports a conceptualization of “the archive” which simultaneously recognizes its oppressive and emancipatory potentials.
Three state commissions have investigated the Affair, each concluding that there existed no systemic kidnapping and claiming that most of the babies died—conclusions contested by Yemenite families and activists. In December of 2016, the commissions’ records were opened to the public. Notwithstanding the records’ recent declassification, suspicious recordkeeping practices by medical and immigration authorities during the disappearances, the commissions’ prioritization of official documentation over oral testimony, and the government’s condoning of destruction of official records, all support a view of “the archive” as a site and source of oppressive power.
Amram, one of the activist groups working to raise public awareness of the Affair, recently opened an online archive of crowd-sourced testimonies. The online archive challenges government control over national meaning-making. Amram positions itself within the context of a larger mobilization of Mizrahi activism, fighting against racism and inequality in Israel. As a successful instance of archival activism, Amram’s archive illustrates how archives can function as a form of communal resistance.
The interactions of citizens, activists, and government around the archives emerge as a site of contestation over Israeli national identity and memory. The government and activist archives of the Yemenite Children Affair allow us to observe the contradictory potentials of archival power as they are manifested in Israeli society.
Hadas Binyamini is a current MI student with a concentration in Archives and Records Management at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information, and a participant in the Collaborative Program in Jewish Studies with the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies. She received her B.A. in History from Oberlin College, Ohio, where she specialized in modern Jewish and Middle Eastern history and memory studies. She is interested in the intersections of nationalism, recordkeeping, and memorialization, especially in post-conflict societies. She currently serves as the Executive Editor of the University of Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought.