Event at U.N. Calls for Justice for Jewish Mid­East Refugees - The Jewish Voice
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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Event at U.N. Calls for Justice for Jewish Mid­East Refugees

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Prominent Jewish leaders gather at the WJC conference on Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands, Friday Sept. 21. L to R: WJC President Ronald Lauder, Israeli MK Danny Ayalon, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor. (Photo courtesy World Jewish Congress)After sixty five years of bloodshed and persecution, the plight of over 850,000 Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries was brought to the attention of the United Nations in a conference hosted by the World Jewish Congress on September 21, despite the backlash from furious and resistant Arab media outlets.

The conference boasted a slew of prestigious keynote speakers, amongst them prominent attorney and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz; former Justice Minister of Canada Irwin Cotler; Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor; and WJC president Ronald Lauder.

The event was hosted by Israeli Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Daniel Ayalon, who stressed the importance of bringing justice to the Jews who were forced to flee from Arab countries since the establishment of Israel as a state in 1948. “This isn’t just a moral call,” he stated in the opening address, “We also have a legal basis to flush out the truth. Our children must know the truth so that their plight is neither forgotten nor marginalized. It is important to express apology to those persecuted, for not speaking up strong enough or fast enough.”

Ronald Lauder further expounded on the plight of the refugees, stating that “the world has long recognized the Palestinian refugee problem, let them finally acknowledge after 65 years the Israeli refugee problem.

“It is time for the international community to recognize that with the birth of the Jewish state in 1948, Jews in Arab countries were persecuted, assaulted and forcibly exiled from their homes, personal and communal property confiscated and stolen. … The World Jewish Congress calls upon the Secretary General of the United Nations and all world leaders to acknowledge the truth, and place the plight of the Jewish refugees of Arab countries on the agenda together with the rights of all the refugees. Only addressing the historical facts can help bring about peace.”

While it is true that neither side bears a monopoly on loss, pain, and damages; the UN seems to have a difficult time acknowledging the historical persecution of Jews from Arab lands. When U.N. Security Council Resolution 227— providing aid for refugees during times of war—it hinted at both Muslims and Jews. Two years later, it was amended to remove the Jewish refugees.

Consequently, the plight of the Palestinian refugees has received far more recognition than that of the Jews.

“Since 1948, 160 UN General Assembly resolutions dealing with Palestinian refugees were passed. Yet not 1 dealing with Jewish refugees was passed nor referenced,” said Irwin Cotler. “In addition, over 10 agencies have been established to provide aid for Palestinian refugees, yet not one for the Jews. Billions of dollars have been donated and secured for the Palestinian refugees, yet none for the Jews.”

While others approached the issue from a practical or personal point of view, Professor Alan Dershowitz addressed it from a legal perspective; conveying the history and controversy surrounding Resolution 242. “Anyone who asks ‘why now’ simply doesn’t know their history,” he asserted. “The plight of the Jewish refugees has been a concern long before Resolution 242 was resolved.”

Despite the statistics, testimonies, and historic documentation depicting their plight, cynics and skeptics still refute the status of Jewish refugees; using the fact that they have a homeland- Israel- as evidence. In addition, they plead the Law of Return, claiming that displaced Jews can return to their homelands if they truly wanted to, hence, their status as ‘refugees’ is self –imposed.

Dershowitz points out how ludicrous a notion this is. “Shame on anyone using that argument,” he declared. “It’s as if someone were to say ‘German Jews, go back to Berlin, you’re not really refugees! Go back to Auschwitz!’ ”

How, one wonders, is it any different than telling a Libyan Jew, who had his business confiscated and is now living in dire poverty, as was the case for so many, to return to Libya? Or telling a Syrian Jew—who was arrested and beaten by the Secret Police—to return to Syria?

Dershowitz further highlighted the differences between Jewish and Palestinian refugees who have settled anew in different countries after having their lives uprooted and livelihoods destroyed.

“A major difference between the two is that Jews understand the Bible, and live by the ethos of creating life, not destroying it. There has never been a Jewish suicide bomber, or Jewish refugee who engaged in terrorist activities. Instead, they have created new lives for themselves and have made great contributions in America; creating successes and bringing patriotism to our country. The Arab refugees, on the other hand, have decided not to move forward, opting for revenge, and living in refugee camps.”

In the campaign to bring justice to the refugees, MK Ayalon mapped a plan which had several objectives. The first, that any international negotiation process must include Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees. On a domestic level, three resolutions were to be implemented shortly: Firstly, a day on the calendar will be designated as a memorial for those lost.

“The goal here is to memorialize, in Israel, schools will teach about it, teachers will talk about it, and there will be public debates. It is important that we remember that whole communities of Jews were uprooted,” he said.

Secondly, a museum in Jerusalem will be created as a house of heritage for those who were lost and forgotten. Thirdly, a 2010 Knesset resolution instructing the government of Israel to bring the refugees’ plight into the negotiation process will be legislated.

To skeptics who ask ‘Why now?’ Mr. Edwin Shukar, himself an Iraqui refugee, replies “Why not now? And if not now, then when?”

Both Shukar and Rabbi Eli Abadie, an escaped refugee from Syria, provided heart-wrenching testimonials about the journeys they underwent, escaping from arrest and possible death to freedom; despite the fact that they did not know what the future held and owned nothing but the clothes on their backs.

The plight of Jewish refugees is by no means forgotten. Scores of Jews have escaped from Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Iran [though Iran itself is not an Arab country, it is a Middle Eastern Islamic one that has persecuted its Jewish population in a manner similar to its Arab neighbors –ed.], leaving behind properties, thriving stores, and family. Children were kidnapped, adults brutally beaten, tortured, and hung. Over 40,000 square miles of properties were confiscated- at least five times the size of Israel. Despite the trials and tribulations thrust in their paths, many have gathered the courage to rebuild, and have succeeded.

In the words of Ron Prossor: “A peaceful future must be built on a truthful past.”

The WJC remains hopeful that the conference will bring facts long buried in the past to public attention, and that the plight of the refugees will no longer be ignored.

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