Israeli diplomats and representatives abroad have been instructed to raise the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries at every relevant forum. This is part of a new international campaign to create parity between the plight of Jewish and Palestinian refugees, Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon announced on Monday
"This is the latest phase in our new initiative," Ayalon told participants at an international conference in Jerusalem convened to discuss ways of raising awareness, both in Israel and abroad, of the suffering of Jews from Middle Eastern countries, many of whom were forced to leave their homes between 1948 and 1952 following the establishment of the Jewish state.
According to figures presented at the conference, around 856,000 Jews in Arab countries were displaced following the establishment of Israel. That compares with around 726,000 Palestinians. Many also had their assets seized and nationalized.
"We are especially interested in getting our message through to organizations associated with the UN," Ayalon said.
The campaign, called "I am a Refugee," was unveiled last week, with Ayalon
urging Jewish refugees from Arab countries and their descendants to upload
materials documenting their personal stories on Facebook and other Internet
sites. Ayalon himself is the son of a Jewish refugee from Algeria.
He told the conference that in the next phase of the campaign, during his visit to New York in two weeks, he intends to call on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to include the issue on the international organization's agenda.
Participants at the Jerusalem conference on "Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries" included international jurists and parliamentarians, heads of organizations representing Jews from Arab countries, and quite a few refugees from Arab countries, who shared their personal stories of persecution. The event was co-sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the World Jewish Congress and the Pensioner Affairs Ministry.
Prof. Irwin Cotler, formerly the justice minister of Canada and currently a member of the Canadian parliament, said that to date the Palestinians have succeeded in perpetrating a "false and dishonest narrative that only one group of people was displaced in the war of 1948 and that was because of ethnic cleansing by the Jews."
Cotler, a leading international human rights lawyer, laid out a plan for rectifying what he called "this historic injustice," which he said had become an obstacle to peace.
"Where there is injustice, there will be no correction," said Cotler. "Where there is no correction, there will be no reconciliation. Where there is no reconciliation, there won't be true peace. Justice for Jewish refugees is the core of the collective effort to put the truth out there in order for peace to be achieved."
Cotler's plan includes requiring Arab countries to acknowledge their responsibility in creating two groups of refugees, Arab and Jewish; including reference to Jewish refugees in all upcoming peace initiatives; educating Jewish children in Israel and abroad about the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries; and stripping UNRWA of its jurisdiction over the Palestinian refugees.
Dr. Stanley Urman, the executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, noted that Jewish refugees lost property worth $700 million (around $6 billion in today's terms), while Palestinian refugees lost property worth about $450 million (around $3.9 billion in today's terms ). Since 1950, he said, Palestinian refugees have received $13.7 billion in U.N. funding, whereas Jewish refugees have received just $35,000.
Several of the speakers noted that the suffering of Jews from Arab countries has not only gone unaddressed in the international community, where it has been overshadowed by the plight of Palestinian refugees, but in Israel as well, where it has been overshadowed by the greater tragedy of the Holocaust.
To illustrate the extent of ignorance about the history of these Jews, U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York who has spearheaded several initiatives to equate the status of Jewish refugees from Arab countries with that of Palestinian refugees, shared his experience at Ben-Gurion Airport the other day.
"The security guard at the airport asked me what I was doing here, and I told her I was going to a conference. She asked me what conference, and I told her a conference on Jewish refugees from Arab countries. 'What?' she asked me. 'There are Jewish refugees from Arab countries?'"