Tuesday, May 24, 2011

'Jewish 'right of return' should be on the table'

Update: Blogger David Schraub has gone back to the original material and concludes that the Foreign Policy journalist who wrote the story - Josh Rogin - made up the bit about the 'right of return', thus worryingly misrepresenting the issue as soon as it has gained prominence. He has emailed Rogin for confirmation. Watch this space.

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We must be making progress when a senior White House official airs his views about the 'Jewish refugee issue'. He says that their 'right of return' should be on the table. Unfortunately, Ben Rhodes has got it backwards: Jewish refugees claim no such right, and neither should Palestinians. The Cable has the story:

The right of Jews to return to the Arab and predominantly Muslim countries they fled from or were kicked out of over several decades could be "on the table" as part of the Middle East peace negotiations, according to a senior White House official.

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for communications and President Barack Obama's chief speechwriter on foreign policy, talked about what's known as the "Jewish right of return" during an off-the-record conference call with Jewish community leaders on May 20, only one day after Obama's major speech on the Middle East. A recording of the call was provided to The Cable.

In response to a question asking why there is a great deal of focus on the Palestinian refugee issue but almost no focus on the Jews who departed Arab lands, Rhodes declared that the Israelis and Palestinians should negotiate on the Jewish right of return to Arab and Muslim countries and that the United States could play in role in mediating that issue.

Here's the full exchange:

"While Palestinian refugees have concerns that are understandable and need to be dealt with in the peace process, there was no reference in the president's speech to the approximately one million Jewish refugees that emerged from the same Middle East conflict. I'm talking about Jews from Arab and Muslim countries who were forced out of their homelands where they had lived for centuries," said B'nai B'rith International Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield.

"The international community has never acknowledged their rights and their grievances," Fusfield continued, "[C]an the U.S., as the peace process move forward, play a role in advancing the rights and concerns of these Jewish refugee groups and help ensure that as refugee issues are dealt with... that the focus will not just be on one refugee group but on all refugee groups emerging from the same conflict?"

Read article in full

7 comments:

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

It's amazing how this Rhodes creep has little or no understanding of the issues involved. Yet he is one of Obama's top foreign policy advisors. Do Jews want to return to lands where they were dhimmis for more than a thousand years, where the Muslim populations have been indoctrinated with both traditional Muslim Judeophobia and more recently imported European Judeophobia throughout most of the 20th century??

bataween said...

The ignorance at the highest levels of the US administration is astounding indeed. But I take it as a good sign that Jewish refugees are finally becoming a mainstream topic of conversation...

Anonymous said...

That is so true:who amongst us Jews wants to claim his right of return to an Arab country?
Having tasted the liberty and respect of us as citizens, none of us could bear to return to lands where the secret police can come barging at your door in the middle of the night!!!
Creep is a good word but also "sorsar" (cockroach)!!!
You see how we can qualify people and not go to prison?
Natanyahu's speech yesterday in front of all the top men in the US persuades me that all these senators do not agree with their president. Bibi received standing ovations several times. I am personally not a great fan of his but he defended Israel marvellously. And his English was beautiful.
Sultana Latifa ex refugee from Egypt

David Schraub said...

Rhodes never said anything about a "right of return" -- the misunderstanding is on the part of the Foreign Policy reporter (Josh Roglin), who added in "right of return" out of whole cloth. The phrase is nowhere in the transcription Mr. Roglin provides. I'm writing to Mr. Roglin to see if he'll correct his post.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Before David S reports to us on his contact with Rogin, here is another report on the issue. If David is right, then this article is wrong in part, although the conclusion that asks why Jews would want to return to those countries is well taken.

http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/05/25/white-house-jewish-right-of-return-should-be-negotiated/

In any case, assuming that David is right, we still have a case of gross ignorance among both Washington policy advisors and journalists. In Rhodes' case, maybe we some nasty attitudes too.

Barry said...

Eliyahu,

I think he is intimating how to remove half the Israeli population to make way for the Arab "refugees".
Not just swapping bits of land around the 67 lines but a population swap as well is maybe what's crawling through his mind.

David Schraub said...

Thanks for posting your update. Unfortunately, Mr. Rogin has yet to get back to me. I'm basing my statements off of what Mr. Rogin calls "the full exchange" between the Obama admin official (Rhodes) and the B'nai B'rith officer (Fusfield) who asked the question:

* * *


"While Palestinian refugees have concerns that are understandable and need to be dealt with in the peace process, there was no reference in the president's speech to the approximately one million Jewish refugees that emerged from the same Middle East conflict. I'm talking about Jews from Arab and Muslim countries who were forced out of their homelands where they had lived for centuries," said B'nai B'rith International Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield.

"The international community has never acknowledged their rights and their grievances," Fusfield continued, "[C]an the U.S., as the peace process move forward, play a role in advancing the rights and concerns of these Jewish refugee groups and help ensure that as refugee issues are dealt with... that the focus will not just be on one refugee group but on all refugee groups emerging from the same conflict?"

Rhodes responded: "Certainly the U.S., in our role, is attuned to all the concerns on both sides to include interests among Israel and others in Jewish refugees, so it is something that would come up in the context of negotiations. And certainly, we believe that ultimately the parties themselves should negotiate this. We can introduce ideas, we can introduce parameters for potential negotiation."

"We believe those types of issues that you alluded to could certainly be a part of that discussion and put on the table and it's something that we would obviously be involved in."

* * *

As is evident, neither Mr. Fusfield nor Mr. Rhodes made any reference to a "right of return", nor anything that could plausibly be interpreted as a "right of return." Indeed, by all appearances, Mr. Fusfield was inquiring whether comprehensive peace talks should include discussion of compensation for the Jewish refugees and their families, and Mr. Rhodes agreed with him that it should be part of the discussion. A stirring victory, in my view, for an oft-neglected issue.

In my email to Mr. Rogin, I asked if there was any more material beyond the transcription he provided which would have warranted the "right of return" statement. Since he hasn't responded, I can't know for sure, but assuming the materials he gave were complete (and he did call it "the full exchange"), I think it is fair to conclude Rogin simply muffed this one.