In his blog Jeff Weintraub reflects on the irony that Israel, a state established as a refuge for European Jews, has ended up housing the vast majority of Jewish refugees from Islamic lands. The narrative of these Jews should now, as Irwin Cotler has proposed, be incorporated in any future peace deal.
"For most of the history of Israel, the majority of Israeli Jews have been Jewish refugees from the Islamic Middle East--the Arab world and Iran--and their descendants. In most cases, they came from Jewish communities whose presence in the Middle East long pre-dated the coming of Islam. As it happens, the number of Jews who fled or were expelled from the Arab world and Iran in the aftermath of 1948 is roughly equivalent to the number of Arabs who fled or were expelled from what became Israel. With the arrival of the Russian Jews in the 1990s, the Mizrahim for first time ceased to be the clear majority of Israeli Jews, and now there may even be a slight Ashkenazi majority--but given relative birth rates, this situation is probably temporary.
"To look at it from the other direction, the overwhelming majority of the Middle Eastern Jews wound up in Israel, whereas most of the European Jews did not wind up in Israel--more of them went to the US and elsewhere (or were murdered). In short, the Zionist movement may have intended Israel to be primarily a refuge for the European Jews, but that's not what actually happened. Instead, Israel has turned out to be primarily a refuge for the Middle Eastern Jews--and the one place in the Middle East where they have some degree of self-determination. (...)
"Given the importance of the Mizrahim in these and other respects, it is remarkable how little role they play in the predominant historical/ideological narratives about the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is clear enough why they have been largely ignored or marginalized by the Arab side and their supporters, who have focused on the "European" dimension of Israel's Jewish immigration and have been understandably inclined to equate "refugees" with "Palestinian refugees." What is more surprising is that they have played such a minimal role in the corresponding narratives from the Israeli side, whether from the peace camp or from their opponents. [....](For some further discussion of these issues, see Shalom Lappin's "Avoiding Distortions of History," Joseph Braude's "The Jewish Refugee Problem," and Albert Memmi's powerful mixture of historical analysis and autobiographical reflection, "Who is an Arab Jew?".)
" Irwin Cotler, a Canadian Member of Parliament, former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, and a major figure in international rights law, correctly insists in a recent article that
"The time has come to rectify this historical injustice, and to restore the "forgotten exodus" to the Middle East narrative. "Remedies for victim refugee groups -- including rights of remembrance, truth, justice and redress -- must now be invoked for Jews displaced from Arab countries, as mandated under human rights and humanitarian law. In particular, each of the Arab countries and the League of Arab States must acknowledge their role in the perpetration of human rights violations against their respective Jewish nationals.
"Further, the peace plan currently being promoted by the Arab League should incorporate the question of Jewish refugees from Arab countries as part of its narrative for an Israeli-Arab peace, just as the Israeli narrative now incorporates the issue of Palestinian refugees in its vision."
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