Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What about those Jewish refugees from Arab lands?

This welcome article by Noam Schimmel in the Jerusalem Post calls for Jewish refugees to be included on Israel's peace agenda. He applauds the king of Bahrain's initiative in attempting to lure his former Jewish subjects back - but so far, only one Jew is known to be returning. A better solution, in my view, is for Arab states to recognise that not only are uprooted Jews entitled to be compensated, but that to call for their return is a futile and propagandistic gesture, three generations too late (with thanks: Lily):

There is a troubling silence here and in the global Jewish community, in the context of Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, about the fate of those Middle Eastern Jews who were persecuted, stripped of their citizenship and expelled from their homes and in the 1940s, '50s and '60s.

Whatever might be the final settlement with the Palestinians and with individual Arab countries or with all the member states of the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, the violation of their human rights, confiscation of their property and annulment of their citizenship must be addressed.

There is virtually no discussion in the European and North American press and public about the history of discrimination against the Jews of Arab lands, which culminated in mass violence and expulsion. It is time for this history to be vigorously raised by Israel and made an issue of paramount concern in any future peace negotiations.

A cynic might argue that the massive loss of land, property and savings of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands can simply be used to "offset" the losses of Palestinians. This would be wrong. The losses were qualitatively and quantitatively different. Each took place in its own context, and needs to be addressed on its own merits.


Unfortunately, Israel set a bad precedent in its peace treaty with Egypt when it made no significant demands to compensate Egyptian Jews who had been stripped of their citizenship from the 1940s through the 1960s,. Many of these lost their property and savings . But this error can be rectified at the negotiating table for the Jews of other Arab countries, particularly because Israel has no peace treaty or diplomatic relations with the nations from which the bulk of Israel's Mizrahi immigrants fled: Iraq, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Morocco. The time to press the rights and history of the Jews of Arab lands is now, as peace negotiations are initiated.

Even if raising this issue during negotiations is met with unyielding negative responses, Israel must nevertheless maintain a principled stance in pressing for acknowledgment and compensation. It is imperative that the historical record, which has until now been largely ignored, receives the attention it deserves.

Already one Arab country has indicated a willingness to restore the rights of former Jewish citizens and provide compensation for some of their losses. In November 2008 the king of Bahrain, Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, said he would restore citizenship to Bahraini Jews and provide them with land. He met with 50 Bahraini Jews in New York and said to them: "It's open, it's your country." He has set a positive example which should be recognized.

Israel may ultimately decide that only a minimal acknowledgment of the persecution of Jews in Arab lands and symbolic compensation for their losses will be necessary in the context of a peace treaty with one or many of the Arab states. That is a decision to be made in the context of negotiations and on the basis of the long-term interests and preferences of Israel's citizens, taking into account the opinions of the former Jewish refugees.

But not addressing the topic at all, or addressing it only tangentially and superficially, does a terrible disservice to those who lost so much when they immigrated to Israel.

Read article in full

No comments: