An exchange of views with The Asylumist

Spot the difference: to find out which refugees are Jewish and which Arab, visit It’s Complicated blog.

The mounting campaign for recognition and redress for Jewish refugees has brought forward a variety of responses: there is panic in several Arab states, there is outright denial from Hanan Ashrawiof the PLO and there is a more subtle form of denial, usually from (left-leaning) Ashkenazi Jews. Readers might be interested in the following exchange I had with Jason Dzubow of the Asylumist, after he called the campaign to link the plight of Jewish with Palestinian refugees ‘ sinister, cynical, and a dangerous precedent’:

Bataween August 27, 2012 at 3:44 pm

You are wrong on several counts. The Jewish refugees had no choice but to leave their countries of birth owing to persecution and expulsion. They were by, any definition, refugees at the time. They no longer are refugees because their adopted countries gave them full citizenship. In other words, a humanitarian solution was applied.They do not want to return because they CAN’T: these countries remain as hostile and dangerous to Jews as the day they left. So by that definition they are still refugees vis-avis their homelands.
In the case of the Palestinians, everything was done to AVOID a humanitarian solution by depriving them of citizenship. You don’t mention that successive generations of Palestinians are able to qualify as ‘refugees’ by descent. Since when does refugee law include a right of return for grandchildren and great-grandchildren of refugees to a country where four-fifths of the present population do not share their language, culture and religion ?
You are wrong to claim that it is not the fault of Palestinians that the Jews were expelled from Arab lands. There is ample evidence that the Palestinians were the driving force behind the Arab war with Israel and antisemitism in Arab countries eg the 1941 Farhud pogrom in Iraq well BEFORE Israel’s creation.

Jason Dzubow August 27, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Thank you for your comments – I certainly appreciate your website. It is a subject that has been of interest to me for some time (having visited Jewish sites in several Muslim countries). Anyway, my response:

First, the Jews who left Arab lands clearly were refugees at the time. However, they were resettled and obtained new citizenship, so they are no longer refugees. The fact that they cannot return to their original countries due to antisemitism does not change this.

Second, while it is terrible that generations of Palestinians have not been resettled – either in their homeland or in the lands of their exile – you are incorrect that they are not refugee as that term is defined under international law. They are stateless, and under the Refugee Convention, stateless people who meet the conditions described in my blog posting are refugees. (It also seems a bit contradictory of you to state that generations of Jews expelled from Arab lands are refugees, but generations of Palestinians expelled from Israel are not refugees).

Finally, your claim that the Palestinians were somehow at fault for Jews being expelled from Arab lands makes no sense. In your example of the pogrom in Iraq, are you claiming that Palestinians were responsible? I would think that the Iraqis were responsible for this. Further, I do not think there is much dispute that Palestinians engaged in antisemitic behavior (the most well-known example was the 1929 massacre in Hebron). However, I think it is difficult to make the case that Palestinians today should continue to be punished for an event they were not involved in. Baruch Goldstone murdered a number of Palestinians. Should all Jews be blamed for his act? Should all Jews be blamed for the recent firebomb attack against a Palestinian family in a taxi? We go down a very dangerous road when we engage in collective punishment of a group for the acts of some individuals in that group.

I stand by my original posting – Jews expelled from Muslim countries should be compensated for their losses. So too, Palestinian refugees should be resettled and granted citizenship – either in Israel, the Palestinian territories, other Muslim countries, or elsewhere. However, linking these two groups is counterproductive and damaging to international refugee law.

Bataween August 28, 2012 at 4:41 am

Hi Jason, thanks for your reply.
Jews are still refugees only in the sense that the UNCHR definition still applies” A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion..most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.”
Not all Palestinians are stateless – ie those in Jordan and Christian Palestinians in Lebanon are not technically refugees. When it suits them, Arab states can and do give them citizenship. But it suits them politically not to. As a lawyer you should be militating against this flagrant abuse of their human rights.

As for the pogrom in Iraq, this was in no way an incident comparable to Baruch Goldstone, a single individual. The Farhud was orchestrated by the Palestinian leader of the Arab world, the Mufti of Jerusalem, whose prestige was unchallenged at the time. His pro-Nazi Jew-hatred was official policy. Up to 600 Jews may have been murdered, thousands injured and mutilated. Of course the Palestinians were involved: Some 500 Palestinians were in Baghdad inciting the locals.

It is only recently that Palestinians have been projecting themselves as separate from the rest of the Arab world. Then they saw themselves as pan-Arabists; it is only because the Allies were too cowardly to bring the Mufti to justice that he was not tried as a Nazi war criminal.

The two refugee issues are also linked because an exchange of populations took place – as in the Indian-Pakistan war of 1947 and the Greek-Turkish conflict of the early 1920s.

Jason Dzubow August 28, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Thank you – You raise several points that I agree with and a few I disagree with.

Once a person is resettled in a third country, he is no longer a refugee. Because the Sephardi Jews (and—as you point out—some Palestinians) have been resettled, they are not refugees any more. Again, this does not negate claims for losses suffered by the Jews, but since they are resettled, they simply do not meet the definition of “refugee” (in fact, my understanding is that several Sephardi Israeli law makers share this view and deny that they are refugees).

Your point that Palestinians did not have a separate identity until more recent times is well taken. Nevertheless, linking resolution of one group of refugees (Palestinians) with the resolution of fair compensation for another group (Sephardi Jews) adds a new requirement to the long-accepted definition of “refugee.” Politicizing the term refugee is nothing new, but it is a bad idea that weakens international law and potentially puts other refugees at risk.

Also, to the extent that I have anything to do with it, I strongly oppose the Arab countries’ treatment of Palestinians, which has ranged from manipulative to murderous. But since I am Jewish, I am more concerned with the morality of my own people.

Finally, I was not equating Baruch Goldstone with the Iraqi pogrom. I was merely illustrating the idea that collective blame is a bad thing. I don’t want to be blamed for a murderer like Goldstone, and I won’t blame a Palestinian child for the actions of the Mufti of Jerusalem.

Bataween August 29, 2012 at 1:03 pm

No one is claiming that the Jews are still refugees (except for the fact they cannot return to Arab countries). They seek to be recognised for having been refugees in the past, a fact which the Arabs (and some leftists) deny. But as you say they are NOW entitled to compensation for property losses ( and presumably human rights abuses such as arrest, torture, etc) – I understand (pls correct me if I am wrong) that there is no statue of limitations for this.

But just because Palestinians remain refugees is not the fault of Israel. Arab states need to be held to account for failing to do their humanitarian duty – they are not entitled to extract a political cost (Right of Return) from Israel.

I’m not saying that the average Palestinian must be collectively punished for what happened to the Jews, but the Palestinian leadership must bear responsibility both for antisemitism in Arab countries and for the consequences of its intransigence, resulting in thousands of their own people becoming refugees. In which case, these refugees have a good case for suing their own leadership.

Jason Dzubow August 29, 2012 at 9:59 pm

My understanding of the bill is that it refers to “Jewish refugees” and seeks to equate them with “Palestinian refugees.”

I think we are in agreement on at least one major point – Jews exiled from Arab lands are entitled to compensation. I think there is no international law standard for a statute of limitations on these claims, though it is generally quite difficult for a private individual to sue a sovereign state (though I once helped out in a lawsuit by Falun Gong members against the Chinese government – we didn’t get all that far, unfortunately). My point is, the effort to obtain compensation should not be linked to the Palestinian refugee issue. I understand why there might be practical reasons for doing so, but I think it sets a very bad precedent.

Bataween August 30, 2012 at 6:47 am

The issues are linked in so far there was an exchange of populations. If you mean that compensation claims on either side will cancel each other out, they are not linked. The current thinking is that each refugees will be entitled to money from an international compensation fund.


  • No, that definition doesn't apply.

    "Under UNRWA's operational definition, Palestine refugees are people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict."

    That's the whole definition. Says nothing about fleeing persecution or being unable to return because of fear.

  • The second part of the definition is "…or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it."
    Asylumist seems to dwell on this, as opposed to the first part of the definition – refugees from persecution. The Palestinians are unable to return, as per this definition, but not unwilling – unlike the Jewish refugees.

  • Bataween, good job keeping this crucial issue alive. You missed an incredibly important point in your debate with the Asylumist.

    He claims that Palestinians fall under the regular definition of refugees, which therefore means that they fled due to persecution. Not true. They have their own definition, which says nothing about persecution, but rather, it says that a Palestinian refugee is any Arab who lost his/her current dwelling and the right to work after living in Palestine for less than 2 years.

  • Bataween, I think that those among Jews who resist acknowledging that there were Jewish refugees from Arab lands are most likely to be "leftists." But these "leftists" can be either Sefardim or Ashkenazim. You have quoted the negative attitudes of Prof Shenhav and of Eric Rouleau too, if I understood him rightly. It's only in more recent years that this false notion has gained wide "Jewish" support in the United States, where false views of Arab-Jewish relations throughout history are deliberately supported and fostered in many universities. When I lived in the USA in my youth the Jewish community newspaper in my city gave sizable space to reports of persecution of Jews in places like Morocco and of the aliyah from Arab-Muslim-ruled lands to Israel. Today, many editors of the Jewish communal press in America take a line favoring the State Dept's basic anti-Israel line [falsely viewed as a "peace policy"]. Belittling the persecution of Jews in Arab lands is part of supporting that State Dept line. Peter Beinart, who has a grandmother from Egypt, seems to do that too. In Israel, that kind of attitude is most prevalent, it seems, around the newspaper HaAretz which is self-avowed as "leftist."

  • Your exchange with the Asylumist was good and fairly subdued given your own individual experience with forced exile. I would have been a bit harsh with him for taking the higher moral ground about an issue he does not have the visceral experience of, nor the empathatic undertanding of exile. But I know it is difficult to keep oneself calm by not being enraged by the insensitive normative clauses of constructive debate. Given his protracted discourse of the law he seems to be well versed in international law but has no clue of the plight of Mizrahi jews when they were compelled to exit their homelands.

    Laws are not preordained they are written by people full of biases and misrepresentations. Of course I am not speaking about ALL LAWS…

  • Thank you for providing the link to my 'spot the difference' post. Your blog is performing such a valuable service especially to those who are just now learning the Jewish refugee story.

  • My response to Mrs. Ashrawy,
    Denying expulsion of the 100.000 jews from Egypt, is like denying Holocaust. The first wave of expulsion, occured in May 15 1948, when Egypt imprisonned 1600 Jews for 18 months, confiscating all their assets, then expelled them with their families which makes 10,000 Jews. The Second wave began in November 1956, 5,000 Jews imprisonned in Jewish Schools, then expelled with their families, which makes 30,000 Jews more. The third wave in June 1967: prison, torture, then expulsion, until no Jews left. In between, following persecutions, Egyptian Jews were sadly compelled to leave. (My brother was beaten in the bus until blood).
    My family was expelled in the first wave, and I am a refugee living in Israel, which is a big refugees camp, which became an educated, prosperous and free one.


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