Rivlin: Israel Behaved Condescendingly Toward Jewish Immigrants From Arab World

Israeli president says new annual commemoration will help make up for years when state denied place of these Jews in Zionist narrative.

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President Rivlin at event honoring Jews from Arab lands, on Nov. 30, 2014.
President Rivlin at event honoring Jews from Arab lands, on Nov. 30, 2014.Credit: AFP

The State of Israel erred when it behaved “paternalistically and condescendingly toward immigrants from Arab countries,” President Reuven Rivlin said Sunday, as he called for a compensation arrangement for Jews who came to Israel from Arab lands, leaving considerable property and money behind.

Addressing the first-ever ceremony marking the Day of Commemoration for Jewish Refugees from Arab countries and Iran, held at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, Rivlin addressed the need to recognize the Jews' suffering and “repair the historic injustice that was done to a million Jews, immigrants from Arab countries and Iran, whose history was pushed to the margins of the Zionist narrative.

“Over the years, refugees from the Arabian communities felt that it was the [Israeli] establishment itself that was denying them their place; that it was the establishment itself that was obscuring evidence of their existence from the pages of the official history. It was as if they, the immigrants from Arab countries, had not walked proudly along the routes marked by the pillars of fire and smoke of our people’s history,” Rivlin said.

He admitted that, “For years their voices were not heard and their losses not given expression,” which could be explained, he added, because of the fact “that terrible tragedies that happened to our people grabbed most of the attention” – a reference to the Holocaust.

Rivlin added: “Their voices were silenced, but the words were on their lips all the time, even when they were said in accented Hebrew, Farsi, or Arabic – languages that were considered in Israel to be the language of the enemy, a source of shame.”

Commenting on the state’s responsibility for the fate of immigrants from Arab countries after their arrival in Israel, the president explained that, “It wasn’t malice led to their being excluded from the front rows of the young state’s leadership, but that exclusion created justified frustration and pain.

“Many immigrants were sent far away from the power centers to cope with the challenges of the periphery, in Dimona, Ofakim, Beit She’an and Hatzor Haglilit. They were required to create cities from nothing, to work the parched desert soil, and to deal daily with defending the borders of the State of Israel,” Rivlin added.

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