Israel raises question of Jewish ‘refugees’ from Arab countries
REACHING into the past for diplomatic gain, Israel yesterday launched a major campaign to raise international awareness about the nearly one million Jews who left the Arab world from 1948 to the early 1970s and whose history, it maintains, has been overlooked.
Taking a leaf from the Palestinian narrative, Israeli officials term the Jews from Arab countries, most of whom immigrated to Israel either because of persecution or the attraction of a Jewish homeland, as “refugees” forced to flee. They voiced hope the effort, which includes instructions to ambassadors to raise the issue with host countries, will weaken Palestinian claims over being displaced at Israel’s inception, when more than 600,000 Arabs were forcibly expelled or fled during the Arab-Israeli war.
“The issue of refugees from the Middle East has two sides,” deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon told a government sponsored conference under the title Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries.
“Granted, there are Palestinian refugees but there is a large number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries,” he said.
Mr Ayalon, from the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu government coalition party, said Israel would raise the issue of Jews displaced from Arab countries during any future peace negotiations.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the conference in a recorded statement that Israel’s absorption of the Jews from Arab countries contrasts starkly with the treatment of Palestinian refugees by Arab states.
“The Arab world has neglected Arab refugees for decades and has used them as a battering ram against Israel, while Israel, which was just born as a nation state, has managed to absorb and resettle the Jewish refugees from Arab countries and turn them into productive citizens.”
To beef up the claims to refugee status, the government plans to send researchers house to house to interview elderly Jewish immigrants from Arab countries.
There are also plans to make the history of Jewish immigrants from Arab countries a core component of the educational curriculum.
However, Palestinians consider the Israeli initiative further evidence of bad faith and an intention not to continue peace negotiations, which have been suspended for more than three years amid recriminations.
“They want to avoid the question of Palestinian refugees and to avoid the Palestinian question altogether so they make this issue of Jewish ‘refugees’,” said Abdallah Abdallah, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council from president Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement.
Mr Abdallah argues that according to the Zionist ideology on which Israel was founded, the Jews from Arab countries cannot be refugees since by moving to Israel they were returning to the land of their forefathers.
Sasson Somekh, Baghdad-born professor emeritus of Arabic literature at Tel Aviv University, was also critical of the conference. In remarks to The Scotsman, he recalled that he left Iraq for Israel in 1950, aged 17, because the university in Baghdad did not accept Jews. His parents later also decided to leave because the Jewish areas of the city were emptying out, with 500 people a day taking flights to Israel. “They felt the Jewish community was disappearing and they felt left alone,” he said.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 12 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: South east
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: West