Israel’s silence on Jewish refugees is deafening

Anyone who follows developments in the Middle East will have found it hard to escape the latest fuss about the resurrected Saudi peace initiative .

This is the plan that demands a full withdrawal by Israel from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and ‘the right of return’ to Israel for Palestinian refugees – in exchange for ‘normalisation’ of relations between Israel and the Arab world.

While the Israeli government has rightly rejected the ‘right of return for Palestinians’ as asking Israel to commit demographic suicide, it is bizarre – and alarming – that neither the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, nor the Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, has even mentioned the rights of Jewish refugees.

Because Israel has not even tried to widen the agenda for discussion, it reinforces the Arab perception that they are the sole victims of injustice. By ignoring the Jewish refugees, Israel is doing nothing to prepare the Arab world for any demands for compensation, let alone admission of guilt for causing the Jewish exodus.

The concept of an ‘exchange of populations’ of roughly equal numbers of refugees has not even penetrated Arab consciousness.

And as long as the Arabs are shielded from feeling any responsibility for the flight of a million Jews, there is little chance of true reconciliation.


  • The word “propaganda” has a pejorative meaning today, but when coined by the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation it was used positively, to mean “propagation of the truth”. We need to propagate the truth about the persecution and oppression of Jews in Arab lands following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.

    The Arabs have shown how a long-lasting and persistent campaign of words can shape the beliefs and conciousness of public opinion. We can learn from some of their techniques, while rejecting completely the tactic of mendacity that so pervades their arguments.

    Firstly they are aggressive. They never shirk from criticism and accusation. Attack has always been the best form of defense. Secondly, they are persistent. You need to persevere in war, and not leave the battlefield just because fighting is sometimes boring or undignified. Thirdly, they are disciplined. They formulate concepts and arguments in a planned way and marshall them in coordinated and cohesive campaigns. This is hard for us to do , for cultural reasons. Fourthly, they are repetitive. Mantras such as “the injustice done to the Palestinians”, “the brutality of the occupation”, and other such phrases have acquired an aura of unassailable truth, not because they are true but because they have been repeated so many times.

    It is not clear that Israel will be able to counter Arab propaganda, because access to the organs of mass communications is in the hands of organizations and individuals that are generally unwilling to give Israel a fair hearing. But that is not a reason for not trying.

  • Glad you agree, anonymous!
    I think you are right – the Israelis are thinking they will bring this up ‘when the time is ripe’. When they do they will be met with the charge ‘you’ve just cooked this one up!’
    I also think that some Israeli foreign ministry officials genuinely believe that the Palestinians lost far more than the Jews did.

  • This is just an example of blind spots that afflict Israeli leaders. They concentrate on the military front of the Arab-Israeli struggle, and show little interest in the other fronts. Furthermore the lack of knowledge of recent Sephardic history in Arab lands is endemic. Even a gifted and well-educated leader like Binyamin Netanyahu rarely even hints at the existence of Jewish claims against the Arabs.

    Perhaps this is a part of some grand strategy, and there is a plan to bring up these issues when “the time is ripe”. But I doubt that such reasoning is correct and in the mean time nobody in the world is told about the injustices done to the Sepharadim.


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