You, like me, may be finding your blood-pressure rising fast with the tide of lies and distortions washing over the British press in the run-up to Israel's 60th anniversary. Most disheartening is the almost complete silence on the 'ethnic cleansing' of Jews from Arab lands. Where the campaign for Jewish refugees is mentioned, it is misunderstood. Joel Plasco's letter in the left-leaning Independent is one chink of light in the darkness, but The Economist initially refused to publish any letters refuting the distortions in its 10th April article on Congress's adoption of resolution HR no.185 on Jewish refugees. When it finally published one by Joe Abdel Wahed, it promptly published a second one contradicting his claim that Jews were brutally expelled.
Sir: While I, like many liberal-minded Jews, believe in a just two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Johann Hari's rewriting of history (Opinion, 28 April) ignores one very important fact which has been overlooked in just about every article which I've read concerning the forthcoming 60th anniversary of the State of Israel. While there were certainly injustices perpetrated against some of the displaced 800,000 Arabs, where is the discussion of the fate of the 600,000* Jews turned out from across the Arab world?
The reason why there is no discussion is simple. Unlike the vastly rich Arab nations which have deliberately maintained the refugee status of the displaced Palestinians for 60 years in order to use them as a political bargaining chip, the struggling nascent Israel welcomed in a similar number of poverty-stricken refugees. The apparatus of the state was turned to ensuring that these refugees became full members of Israeli society, and the descendants these Sephardi Jews today make up about 50 per cent of Israeli society.
A good way to judge the moral fibre of a society is how it treats the least privileged of its own. Perhaps Mr Hari should use this as a starting point. The squalid refugee camps across the Arab world, contrasted with the integrated members of Israeli society.
*850,000 is the truer figure
The article entitled “Let There be Justice for All: America's Israel Lobby Scores Another Questionable Victory” ( April 10, 2008 print edition) unfortunately does not live up to high journalistic standards to which, no doubt, The Economist aspires to.
This article misrepresents the spirit and intent of the US Congressional resolution affirming rights for Jews displaced from Arab countries. The Resolution is not about “restitution for Jewish refugees” but rather seeks to establish a fundamental principle: there were two refugee populations created as a result of the longstanding dispute in the Middle East and both have to be addressed in any just and credible Middle East peace process.
Neither the mass violations of human rights, nor the displacement of over 850,000 Jews from some 10 Arab countries have ever been adequately addressed by the international community. Your article perpetuates this historical injustice by inaccurately stating: that: “…Arab attitudes to them (Jews) soured in the wake of Jewish immigration to Palestine and the later creation of Israel”.
In fact, Jews have been an indigenous people in the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region for more than 2,600 years – fully 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. Centuries before the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews in Arab countries faced persecution – decrees ordering the destruction of synagogues were enacted in Egypt and Syria (1014, 1293, 1301), Iraq (854, 1344) and Yemen (1676); mass murders of Jews took places in Fez (1465); Libya (1785); and in Algiers (1805 – 1830). The Economist has now joined others who seek to expunge this narrative from the history of the Middle East. .
The article refers to the work of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) and cynically refers to the “power of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington”. In fact, unconnected to Israel and certainly not a ‘lobby’, JJAC is an international human rights coalition of 77 Jewish communities and organizations in 20 countries.
The bi-partisan support for Resolution 185 is not the result of any lobby; rather it reflects the overwhelming consensus of the US House of Representatives on the need to restore law and equity to the deliberations on Middle East refugees. Only in this fashion, can we begin to move from truth to justice; then to reconciliation; and then to peace, between and among all peoples and states in the region.
Stanley A. Urman
Justice for Jews from Arab Countries
Your coverage of the encouraging vote by America’s House of Representatives in support of the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries was one more positive step in the never ending struggle for the Jewish people to find justice and fairness. Your conclusions however need fine-tuning. It is incomprehensible that Jews fleeing threats, terror, murder, inequality under the law and loosing all their assets should be viewed as having fewer rights only because they found safe haven.
The presentation for the vote in the US Congress was a showing of third party concern for Jewish rights that has not happened since the Nuremburg trials and the UN vote that led to the creation of the State of Israel. In fact there was no official support from Israel for this bill and it was not lobbied for on its behalf by the traditional Israel lobby referred to. Israel’s position on this issue is a continuation of its longstanding lesser appreciation for its Jewish citizens from Arab countries. This, although today these Jews and their descendants make up the majority of Israel’s population, and Arabic is a second official language. The “two- sided” refugee problem in the Middle East was created by one side when all the Arab countries attacked the newly- created Israel, and then let their local Jewish populations suffer their wrath after a humiliating loss.
No one is using this issue as an attempt to lessen any claims by the Palestinian refugees. Instead it recognizes that no peace will ever be achieved without the ultimate endorsement of the Arab countries, which even Arafat recognized as the reason for his ultimate 'no'. Through their behavior following the creation of Israel, the Arab nations de facto achieved a population exchange within the region and vastly improved Israel’s chances of survival as a Jewish state - a population exchange just like the ones between Greece and Turkey and later between India and Pakistan that were essential to lasting peace. This population exchange, no doubt, is the most promising argument for the ultimate acceptance of Israel and peace by the Arabs. The widespread, well-documented and important Jewish presence in the Arab world dates back over 2,500 years, long before the advent of Islam and surely it has every right to remain, and in peace. However both the Palestinian and the Jewish refugees deserve full and equal recognition of their losses. To call the rights of the Jewish refugees a right-wing issue is deplorable at best.
David E R Dangoor
The American Sephardi Federation
Update: the following letter was finally published in the Economist of May 10.
I was surprised to read that the "Israeli lobby" was responsible for passing resolution 185 (April 12). In fact, for many years, it refused to be involved. Furthermore, compensation was not the key part of this resolution, another important factor you got wrong.
All we wanted was to tell our story because, for 60 years, the media talked exclusively on the Palestinians. There was virtually nothing on the brutal expulsion of nearly one million Jews from the Arab world and Iran. No trial; no jury; no justice. Human rights organization did not call attention to this crime against humanity. The UN did not convene the Security Council to censure the Arab countries. The Church and British Academics and Unions did not ask for divestment from these countries nor did we receive any financial help from the UN, like the Palestinians did.
"Who was fighting for my rights?", I asked. I was 12 years old, living in Cairo when the Arab League said, in May 1948: "This will be a war of extermination that will be likened to the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades" The Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini exhorted Palestinian Arabs to "kill all (Palestinian) Jews". They lost the war and since then, have been crying to the world that they are the victims. Give me a break!
The Middle East conflict created not one, but two refugee populations. It's unfair to talk about one group to the exclusion of the other.
Joseph Abdel Wahed
Co-founder of JIMENA
Moraga, Ca. USA
You got it all wrong in your coverage of U.S. Congressional Resolution 185, recognizing the nearly 1 million indigenous Jews exiled from 9 Arab countries and Iran. Your characterization that the passage of this resolution was due in large part to the "Israel lobby" ignores the history of this movement.
I know first hand because my husband started Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA), six years ago. It was begun by a handful of people who, through stint of passion, dedication and hard work, forged it into a grass works organization. JIMENA partnered with the Justice for jews from Arab Countries organization, and others, to support this legislation because their story of exile and loss was never told by the media. The "Israel lobby" had nothing to do with it.
Also, the resolution was about RECOGNITION not simply restitution, although anyone with a sense of fairness would acknowledge the Jewish refugees have a right to restitution, too, since the Arab countries stole their homes, schools, hospitals, community centers, businesses, and bank accounts, totaling billions in today's dollars. But these Jewish groups aren't driven by a demand for restitution. They want their voices to be heard and their stories told.
Finally, I am baffled why the press continues to call the Palestinians "refugees," a title that inexplicably applies to not only the original refugees, but their children and grandchildren -- 60 years later. We know they don't live in tents, most of them own their homes and businesses, even if they still receive welfare aid from the U.N., totaling nearly $14 billion since 1950! What more restitution could they deserve than that! Plus, must everyone be reminded they are the ones who started the war against Israel in 1948. If they had chosen the path of peace, they would be celebrating their 60th year of independence, like Israel.
Kathi Twomey Wahed
Your editorial on Congress’s passing of a resolution on Jewish refugees gets it wrong on several counts:
The resolution is not an abuse of power by the ‘Israel lobby’. It is not about restitution to Jewish refugees from Arab Countries and Iran, but recognition. This is not a zero-sum game: Jewish rights do not detract from Palestinian rights. Both must be addressed.
Few know that there were more Jewish refugees than Palestinian Arab refugees. The Jews lost assets worth twice as much. It is neither right nor fair that the international community should see the Israel-Arab conflict only as a story of Palestinian victimhood and dispossession. The Congressional resolution tries to redress the balance.
While we are all too aware of the injustices committed against the Palestinians, Israel has been penalised in the court of world opinion because it has not politicised the issue of the Jewish refugees, most of whom it absorbed successfully at huge cost but with little fuss. With their descendants, these refugees today constitute half Israel’s Jewish population.
Neither is the resolution a stumbling block to peace. There needs to be a proper reckoning with the past. The Arab world continues to deny its responsibility for causing its ancient Jewish communities to flee. In that sense, unveiling the truth about the more than 800,000 Jews driven out of 10 Arab countries contributes to, rather than detracts from, the peace process.