JIMENA’s Mission Statement:
JIMENA aims to achieve universal recognition for the heritage and history of the 850,000 indigenous Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. Our programs aim to ensure that the accurate history of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews is incorporated into mainstream Jewish and Middle Eastern narratives in order to create balance in attitudes, narratives, and discourse about Middle Eastern refugees and the modern Jewish experience.
In the early 20th century, under the heavy weight of Anti-Jewish governments and policy, nearly one million Jews from the Middle East and North Africa had their property confiscated, basic human rights stripped, and were systematically persecuted and victimized. Ultimately these Jews were forced to flee their homes and surrender their nationalities, becoming the “Forgotten Refugees” of the Middle East and North Africa. UN Resolution 242 asserted that Jews fleeing Arab countries were ‘bona fide’ refugees, yet the international community, the media and North American educational systems have continuously ignored their plight and their losses.
Revisionist history of the Middle East conveniently excludes the fact that over half of Israel’s Jewish population live there not because European atrocities during World War II, but because of Anti-Jewish Arab governments who dispossessed and displaced their native Jewish populations following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Adopted narratives of the Arab-Israeli conflict fail to address the fact that Israel was the largest refugee camp in the Middle East, providing safe haven to some 650,000 dispossessed Middle Eastern and North African Jewish refugees whose ancestors had a continuous presence in the region for over 3,000 years.
Incorporating the Sephardic and Mizrahi experience into mainstream North American Jewish life, enriches Jewish communities, strengthens cultural continuity with Israel, bridges gaps between Jewish and Middle Eastern communities and emphasizes Jewish entrenchment in the Middle East.
In 2001, as the world was reeling from the September 11th World Trade Center terror attacks in New York, a group of former Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa decided it was time to share their personal stories of religious oppression, displacement, material loss and fractured identities. Jews from Arab countries had lived continuously in the Middle East and North Africa for over 3,000 years, yet revisionist history of the region excluded their modern story of dispossession and plight. JIMENA’s co-founders wanted to empower students and adult audiences with a deeper, personal understanding of the conflicts and cultural nuances in the region.
Since JIMENA’s formation, we have launched numerous campaigns and projects to ensure that the history of Jewish refugees from Arab countries is well documented and included in discourse involving Middle Eastern refugees. Members of JIMENA’s Speakers Bureau have shared their personal stories with the UN Human Rights Council, US Congressional Human Rights Caucus, European and Italian Parliaments, Israeli Knesset, British House of Lords, over 80 Universities in North America and hundreds of organizations. As the only organization in North America focused on educating and advocating on behalf of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, the Israeli government has requested that JIMENA continue to play a key leadership role in international initiatives to advance this issue.
Each month, the JIMENA website receives close to 200,000 hits from around the world attesting to international interest in the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. We have led a number of effective Jewish refugee advocacy training seminars, educating students and adults on how to incorporate the issue of Jewish refugees into a broader discussion of how the Middle East has developed today. Since our formation, we have become a leader of the Jewish multicultural movement and have successfully created cultural continuity between Jewish communities in Israel and the United States. We have produced hundreds of cultural events, introducing and engaging with a diversity of audiences in the ancient and beautiful traditions of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews.