For a country that gave safe haven to tens of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, it is odd that the official policy of successive Canadian governments has only recognised the displaced Palestinians, claimed one of the testifiers, Shimon Fogel (left), at the recent Parliamentary hearings on Jewish refugees in Ottawa. Here is his article for the Times of Israel (with thanks: Michelle):
The omission from Canadian foreign policy of the experience of Jewish refugees from Arab Countries is baffling given how much was known by the Government of Canada throughout the evolution of their plight. The following examples are from government records available at Library and Archives Canada.
By March 1949, Canadian diplomats were reporting that “many thousands” of Jewish refugees fleeing North Africa were “pouring into Palestine”.
By March 1952, the Government of Canada received reports that Israel had absorbed more than 300,000 Jews from Arab countries, including 120,000 from Iraq and 50,000 from Yemen.
In August 1956, following months of requests from one of our predecessor organizations, the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Canadian government decided: “in view of the urgent humanitarian considerations involved”, to waive the normal security procedures and facilitate the movement of North African Jews to Canada. Approximately 25,000 Jews came to Canada from Morocco as part of the mass migration of more than 200, 000 Jewish Moroccans between 1948 and 1967.
In December 1956, the Department of External Affairs received diplomatic cables describing the expulsion of Egyptian Jewry. Those Jewish Egyptians who were rendered stateless by the discriminatory 1926 Nationality Code (approximately 50% of the Jewish population in 1956) were faced with a horrific dilemma.
Cables to External Affairs reported that “Jews without nationality are given [a] choice between leaving Egypt or being sent to a concentration camp. …Jews would receive a visit of some official who would intimidate them into signing a declaration of intention to leave Egypt which would result in cancellation of residence permit and then force them to leave the country.”
On December 20, 1956, in response to these reports, a memorandum to the Minister of External Affairs stated: “What we have in mind is that a sensible principle to accept would be that Jewish refugees wishing to go to Israel should do so and that those not wishing to go to Israel should be accommodated elsewhere in the free world, including Canada.”
Six days later, External Affairs received another cable detailing “a new emergency…concerning the movement of ten thousand Jews from Egypt.”
In February 1957, the UN High Commissioner of Refugees deemed the Egyptian refugees eligible for UN protection.
Canadian cables from elsewhere in the region continued to tell a similar story into the following decade. For example, a May 4, 1964 memorandum from the Canadian Embassy in Switzerland to the Under-Secretary of State of External Affairs spoke of Apartheid conditions facing the Jews of Tunisia.
Even as late as March 1973, diplomats were expecting an increase in Jewish immigration to Canada from Morocco, “possibly more rapidly and dramatically than we would wish, as new Moroccan measures are being implemented in the months ahead” that “will force all these unwanted people to seek a new home.”
Yet, despite all this accumulated evidence, despite the tens of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries that found asylum in Canada, the official policy of successive Canadian governments has only recognized the displaced Palestinians. This remains the status quo today.
A review of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s website shows absolutely no mention of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. In the section that defines Canada’s official policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, consideration of Palestinian refugees features prominently while Jewish refugees are ignored.
This imbalance in Canadian policy stands in sharp contrast to the leadership role Canada has played on the refugee file since the inception of the Middle East peace process, as “Gavel Holder” of the multilateral Refugee Working Group. A product of the 1991 Madrid peace conference, the Working Group has served as a complement to bilateral negotiations and as a forum for discussing longer-term issues and possible contributions from the international community to an effective resolution to the refugee issue.
As “Gavel Holder”, Canada is uniquely placed to raise the profile of the Jewish refugee issue and to ensure it is given the fair consideration it merits. Official incorporation of the Jewish refugee issue into Canadian foreign policy will signal to the world, at this important juncture, that Canada is ready to take the lead on this central issue and to foster a comprehensive resolution of all refugee claims.