Monday, March 24, 2014
What made Canada recognise Jewish refugees?
As a Jew growing up in Iraq, Gladys Daoud (pictured) had an ordinary life. Her father served in the Iraqi army as a colonel and had a medical practice in Baghdad. Her childhood was relatively happy and uneventful — until 1948 (1967? ed). Once the establishment of the State of Israel disrupted the equilibrium in the Middle East, Iraq, like many other Arab countries, began persecuting its once-equal Jewish citizens, looting Jewish stores and workshops, firing Jewish workers, and restricting Jews from entering universities. Daoud’s quiet life was over.
“Jews were forbidden from leaving the country, under the pretext that they would join the Zionist enemy and attack Iraq. Under international pressure, the government finally relented, and allowed Jews to leave, provided they abandoned all of their assets in favor of the state,” said Daoud, whose family eventually settled in Montreal, Canada. “Our Muslim and Christian friends who we grew up with no longer dared to speak to us.”
More than 65 years later, the justice and recognition that families like Daoud’s have been seeking may finally have arrived, at least in Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s markedly pro-Israel government recently announced that it is accepting a parliamentary committee’s recommendation to officially “recognize the experience” of some 850,000 Jewish refugees who were displaced from the Middle East and North Africa as a result of the 1948 war. At the same time, however, the government refrained from accepting a second recommendation “to take into account all refugee populations as part of any just and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts.”
“The narrative that somehow only Palestinians have been victims of the conflict has to be challenged and more importantly, has to be recognized by the international community,” said Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), a non-partisan organization that works to strengthen the Canada-Israel relationship. “Canada is responding because we took up the issue and claimed that Canadian policy is incomplete.”
Canada is the second government besides Israel's to recognize the plight of Jewish refugees. In 2008, the U.S. Congress adopted Resolution 185, which declared that “it would be inappropriate and unjust for the United States to recognize rights for Palestinian refugees without recognizing equal rights for former Jewish, Christian, and other refugees from Arab countries.”
The resolution goes even further than the Canadian recommendation by also adding that “any resolutions relating to the issue of Middle East refugees…must also include a similarly explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.”
While peace negotiations have not formally included the Jewish refugee issue, it has been raised in the past.
“The situation of Jews displaced from Arab countries has been addressed in the Middle East peace process, in one way or another, since the Camp David negotiations of 2000. In this sense, the recognition comes 14 years after the fact,” said McGill University political science professor Rex Brynen. “The issue is also routinely addressed in ‘second track’ and other policy-relevant work on the refugee issue.”
Former U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton both made public statements recognizing Jewish refugees from Arab counties. The plight of Jewish refugees is increasingly being brought up in Israel as well. In early February, the Bill to Commemorate the Flight and Expulsion of Jews from Arab Lands and Iran, which would designate November 30 as the official day to commemorate the displaced Jews and the destruction of their communities, passed its first reading in the Knesset.
What the Jewish refugees who testified at the Canadian meeting and the organizations behind the committee report want, however, is for this issue not to be left aside in the current peace process, led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
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Canadian refugee hearings: Gladys's story