NEW YORK – The “forgotten refugees” of the Arab-Israel conflict – Jews forced from their homes in Arab countries – will gain a hearing at the United Nations on 21 November 2013 at a conference convened by Israel’s Mission to the United Nations, the World Jewish Congress and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and Justice for Jews from Arab Countries.
The Untold Story of the Middle East: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries will urge that American and international diplomacy recognize the rights of the Middle East’s Jewish refugees on an equal footing with those of other refugees in the region, including Palestinian Arabs – an especially salient topic given ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. “The world has long recognized the Palestinian refugee problem, but without recognizing the other side of the story – the 850,000 Jewish refugees of Arab countries,” said World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder. “Yet for any Middle East peace process to be credible and enduring, it must ensure that all bona fide refugees receive equal rights and treatment under international law.”
The conference will hear presentations from Israeli Minister of National Infrastructure Silvan Shalom, Israeli Permanent Representative to the UN Ron Prosor, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, Conference of Presidents Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, and Co-President of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries Sylvain Abitbol. The film ‘The Forgotten Refugees’, a documentary by Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA), will be screened. Other speakers will include Lucette Lagnado, the author of two memoirs about her Egyptian Jewish family; Linda Menuhin, a Middle East commentator who is the daughter of Iraqi Jewish refugees; and Levana Zamir, president of the International Association of Jews from Egypt.
Jews lived in the lands of the Arab world for 2,500 years, but in the 20th century, with the rise of Arab nationalism and the conflict in Palestine, the new Arab regimes began a campaign of massive violations of the rights of their Jewish citizens. Arab states expropriated property of their native Jews, and denaturalized, expelled, arrested, tortured and murdered many of them. The persecutions of Middle Eastern Jewries started even before the establishment of the Jewish state, and they continued with the outbreak of the 1967 war.
A 1968 World Jewish Congress publication details the abuses inflicted on the remnant of Jews in Arab countries as the Israelis drove to victory: 18 Jewish deaths from mob violence in Libya; pillaging of the central synagogue and burning of shops in Tunisia; 2 Jews killed in Morocco; hundreds of arrests of Jews in Egypt. “In some places the mob reaction was spontaneous; in others it was stimulated by local politicians and agitators,” the publication states. Waves of refugees left, starting in 1948 and continuing after the 1967 war – a group that was at least as large as the Palestinian Arab refugees.
After World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel, the World Jewish Congress was perhaps the foremost organization assisting Jews in Arab and other Muslim countries. In the 1950s, the WJC negotiated the safe passage of Jewish refugees with a number of Arab governments, especially in North Africa. The issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands continues to be a focus of the organization.
The WJC is committed to raising the plight of Jews who fled from, or still live in, Arab lands and their specific concerns with governments and international organizations. Where illegal seizure of assets took place, these should be returned to their former owners, or adequate compensation should be paid. Jews remaining in Arab lands, as well as other religious minorities, should be granted religious freedom and allowed to practice their faith according to their traditions. Jewish communal sites in Arab countries must be preserved and respected. “The world needs to hear the stories of these Jews,” said Robert Singer, Executive Vice President and CEO of World Jewish Congress. “Without recognition of their rights and history, we really can’t understand the Middle East conflict.”