Last week I had occasion to speak to a man whose job is to improve Israel’s PR in Britain.
“Why don’t you ever mention Jews from Arab countries?’ I asked.
” Jews from Arab Countries are not sexy news,” he replied.
I was gobsmacked. By ‘sexy’ I suppose he meant ‘topical’. Yet hardly a day goes by without some Palestinian, somewhere, telling how his land was ‘stolen by the Zionists’, as recently as… 60 years ago. Hardly topical, and yet the news media lap it up.
To be charitable, one can hardly blame Israel activists and advocates for not mentioning the rights of Jews expelled from Arab lands. They take their cue from the Israeli government and foreign ministry, press and media.
I cannot recall a single instance when a senior Israeli government minister has made a statement for foreign consumption mentioning the rights of Jews from Arab countries.
It is true that in the frenzied making of demands and staking of claims in the run-up to the Annapolis peace conference, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert have been outspoken in rejecting the Palestinian ‘right of return’. But they do this on practical, never moral, grounds – because to have millions of Arab refugees flooding the country is tantamount to destruction by demography. Israeli leaders never say that to insist on a ‘right of return’ for Arab refugees is wrong when a right of return to Arab countries for an equivalent number of Jewish refugees is the height of absurdity. They never say that there is a kind of rough justice in the irreversible exchange of refugee populations.
Far too many advocates for Israel think of ‘Jews from Arab countries’ as a peripheral issue. They see the pogroms that killed 100 in Aden and Syria almost exactly 60 years ago as an unfortunate backlash by Arab mobs enraged by the UN Partition Plan for Palestine. They seem to have swallowed the narrative that what happened to the Jews is a regrettable but an inevitable by-product of Israel’s creation.
Yet the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Jews from 10 Arab countries is not peripheral at all -it is the main event. The Arabs’ 60-year struggle to eliminate Israel is of a piece with the oppression of non-Arab or non-Muslim minorities – much of it inspired by Nazism. Nascent Arab-Muslim dysfunctional societies were marginalising and murdering Jews, Assyrians and Copts as early as the 1930s.
As long as pro-Israel advocacy fails to bring Jews from Arab countries into the argument, the Palestinians will continue to hog the moral high ground, Israel will continue to be delegitimised and Middle East peace will continue to be beyond reach.