The Other Refugees
A newly discovered document explains the Jewish exile from Muslim lands.
11:00 PM, Nov 12, 2007 • By JILLIAN BANDES
A NEW DISCOVERY in the archives at the United Nations has drastically altered the historical narrative of the exile of Jews from Arab countries.
Conventional wisdom had long held that the exile was the result of isolated incidents of anti-Semitism. But the newly discovered document reveals that it was, in fact, the result of concerted efforts by Arab countries, amounting to what is essentially a standard multinational policy of discrimination.
The document was released by the human rights group Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JFJ) at a conference this past weekend, and includes the following:
No one at the Arab League was available to speak on record about the document despite repeated calls to the organization over a four-day period. But an unnamed source there claimed that any document explaining such repression is "pretty questionable," given that there is no record of it in Arab League files.
The source said that, due to the lack of computers, there had not been any record-keeping that long ago.
University of Miami professor Henry Green, an attendee at the JFJ conference, said "the historical record regarding the United Nations partition vote and the ongoing issue of refugees includes archival information that is accessible to anyone," and that he would invite the Arab League "to join me and review the records so we can bring the historical documents to bear."
JFJ spokeswoman Shira Dicker believes this to be the result of Israel's inaction on the issue, resulting from discrimination against Israel's Sephardic Jews--who made up the vast majority of those exiled from Arab countries--and an unwillingness to revisit the past.
Conference attendees interested in seeing that change were infuriated when an Israeli official offered that the government would "address the issue when the time is right."
Looking for allies, the victims are turning to Congress. Spearheaded by Reps. Tom Lantos and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, H. Res. 185 and S. Res. 85, address the issue of Jewish refugees by mandating that any Middle East peace agreement would address the plight of "all refugees in the Middle East"--not just Jews, but Christians and Muslims as well. The proposed legislation would also require that Jewish and other refugees be mentioned when resolutions are made about Palestinian refugees--a point likely to stir anger among Palestinian advocacy groups. However, debate won't begin on the resolution before the Annapolis talks.
Gina Wills, a public affairs specialist in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the Department of State, said that the United States has never addressed the issue of Jewish refugees or commanded attention to their restitution. In fact, it has refused to recognize the claims of Jews fleeing Iraq, despite recognizing the claims of Arab refugees against Israel.
The issue "has been expunged on the pages of history," said JFJ's Shira Dicker. "This is it, 60 years after the fact."
Jillian Bandes is a staff writer at Roll Call.