Sunday, June 12, 2005

Nice try Karim, but...

The news that Jewish groups are launching an international campaign to promote the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries has prompted media-watcher Karim Kettani, who runs the French website 'Minorites', to launch his own critique of what he sees as a lame Israeli government attempt to refute the Palestinian 'right of return': "Nice try, better luck next time!", he concludes, triumphantly.

He gives three main reasons why the campaign is a non-starter. I'll try to present a convincing counter-argument to each one: (Please feel free to add your comments.)

Since the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty was signed in 1979 the Arab-Israeli conflict has become an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel's demands must be dealt with bilaterally with individual Arab states as the Palestinians cannot be held legally responsible for the actions of other sovereign states.

Nice try, Karim, but let's not forget that the Palestinian refugee problem was itself a result of a multilateral war. Five Arab armies attacked the newly-declared state of Israel in 1948. The Arab states are arguably responsible for the plight of the Palestinians. Arguably too, the long-term solution to the Palestinian refugee problem is multilateral. It lies with those Arab countries hosting large numbers of Palestinian refugees (Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Jordan). It is they who will ultimately have to resettle them.

Israeli agents planted bombs which caused 100,000 Iraqi Jews to flee. Similarly the Lavon affair in Egypt against Jewish targets severely weakens the Israeli case.

Nice try, Karim, but this popular canard won't fly. The 'bombs-planted-by-Israeli- agents' explanation does not excuse the Nuremburg-type legislation introduced against their Jewish citizens in almost every Arab country. It does not explain away the vicious rioting and mob violence which claimed hundreds of Jewish lives throughout the 1940s.

The March 1950 denationalisation law stripping departing Jews of their Iraqi nationality was brought in to formalise the fact that 30 - 40 Jews were already streaming out of the country daily.

There were bomb attacks in Baghdad between 1950 and 51. To this day nobody knows who was responsible - Israeli agents wishing to speed up Jewish emigration, or members of the far-right Istiqal party. The first, on 18 April 1950, injured four Jews. On 19 January 1951 a hand grenade was thrown into a group of Jews in the courtyard of one of the main registration centres, the Masouda Shemtob synagogue, killing five. The denationalisation law was due to expire on 9 March. Although 30,000 signed up to leave in the intervening two months, 85,893 Jews, or two-thirds of the community, had already renounced their Iraqi nationality, had left or were waiting to leave. Other bombs went off in April and June 1951 after the law allowing Jews to leave had expired and the Iraqi government had decreed Jewish property frozen.

The 1954 Lavon affair bombings in Egypt were NOT aimed at Jewish targets, but US government offices in Cairo and Alexandria. Nobody was killed. Again this canard does not explain why 25,000 Egyptian Jews fled following the violent riots of 1948. Nor did it cause the major Jewish exodus from Egypt which took place following the 1956 Suez war, fully two years after the Lavon affair.

Jews left Morocco against the will of their government: Mohammed V had always refused to let the Jews depart 'en masse' for Palestine. Hassan II relented after massive pressure from within and without. Same goes for Tunisia. True, the Algerian Jews fled a violent war of independence, but as they were all French nationals according to the Decret Cremieux of 1871 this issue should be settled between France and Algeria, not Israel.

Nice try, Karim, but to argue that King Mohammed did not expel the Jews - indeed did everything in his power to keep them, does not mean that the Jews did not have good cause to want to leave. Scores were killed in riots following the establishment of Israel. Most Jews were not convinced by assurances that they would be equal citizens in the new independent, democratic states. As well as sporadic violence there were restrictions and economic boycotts, although it is true that of all Arab states Morocco has been most fair-minded towards its Jews.

Karim, you have a point regarding the Algerian Jews. [But it is also true that in the democratic, secular state’ of Algeria the National Code granted Algerian nationality only to those whose fathers and paternal grandfathers were Muslims (Section 34, Law no 63 -69 of Mar 27, 1963)] .

Nice try, Karim. Better luck next time.

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