Monday, November 24, 2008

Israel symposium may herald Jewish refugee focus

A one-day symposium at Bar Ilan university in Israel today assembles for the first time four associations of Jews from Arab Countries - from Iraq, Egypt, Libya and North Africa, as well as university and government representatives. It could herald a greater focus in 2009 on the issue of Jewish refugees in Israeli politics and the media.

Speaking at the symposium will be Stanley Urman, director of Justice for Jews from Arab countries. The question of the two groups of refugees and property claims will be covered in the fourth session.

Having scored successes during this year in Europe, at the UN, and in the United States, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) looks set to focus its campaign on Israel in 2009.

JJAC and the Atlantic Forum in Herzliya have been in talks to open a JJAC affiliate office in Israel that would promote strong support for the rights and redress of Jews displaced from Arab countries, some two-thirds of whom immigrated to Israel.

The office will target government leaders and the Knesset, as well as carrying out public education, outreach to Mizrahi leaders and media, and conferences and briefings.

In the light of the general elections called for February 2009, it is imperative for Jewish refugees to be included on the political agenda. JJAC hopes that the rights of Jews from Arab countries could be made a campaign issue. It also feels that Israel's support for Jewish refugees must be clear and unequivocal if 'refugees' come up in multilateral discussions of the Arab League/Saudi Peace Initiative.

JJAC has been concerned at the reluctance of representatives of the government of Israel to promote the rights of Jews from Arab countries in current negotiations with the Palestinians.

"This uncertainty has not helped in promoting rights and redress - particularly in Europe and the Diaspora - where Government and Jewish leadership were constantly waiting for a clear signal from Israel that this is an issue of importance for the State of Israel and the Jewish people," JJAC says in its Annual Report.

Over the past year, JJAC has made numerous representations to Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni and other ministers and officials, urging them to speak out more forcefully on the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Recently JJAC claims to have scored some victories. The news agency Medialine reported Foreign Ministry confirmation that the issue has been formally raised in talks with the Palestinians. JJAC also cites as a success Tsipi Livni's statement to the Foreign Press Association in August that Israel gave refuge to Jews 'who had to leave not only Europe but also Arab states'. It hails Ehud Olmert's September statement to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence committee of 'sorrow for what happened to the Palestinians and also for what happened to the Jews who were expelled from Arab states.'

Critics would say, however, that both Livni's and Olmert's statements stopped well short of calling Arab states to account for perpetrating a massive injustice against their Jews, and that Olmert has set a dangerous precedent by appearing to admit that the plight of the Palestinians was Israel's fault.

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