Danny Ayalon’s campign for Jewish refugee rights has put the cat among the pigeons, writes Lyn Julius in the Times of Israel. The Arab press and leftwing media are in disarray. But a bigger challenge might be the mass ignorance of the issue among Israeli Jews. (Full coverage of the UN meeting on 21 September will begin shortly.)
Last week’s “Justice for Jews from Arab Countries“ conference in Jerusalem, staged by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign
Affairs (MFA) in association with the World Jewish Congress (WJC), made
history: it was the first official attempt in 64 years to introduce the
plight of 850,000 Jewish refugees into mainstream public discourse. On
September 21, the scene shifts to New York, when Danny Ayalon, WJC
President Ron Lauder and leading lawyer Alan Dershowitz will call for UN
recognition of the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
Reactions so far in the mainstream media range from bewilderment to hysteria. The campaign is a “cynical manipulation.” It’s about talking points, political point-scoring, “hasbara.”
In other words, the involvement of the Israeli MFA has raised the media’s worst suspicions. Haaretz and The Daily Telegraph
report that the Israeli government is obeying a recommendation of the
Israeli National Security Council. It’s a premeditated strategy. It’s a
stumbling block to peace, proof of the Israeli government’s
‘insincerity’, an excuse to avoid a peace settlement even when peace
talks are not going on. (Naturally, perpetuating Palestinian refugee
status down through the generations is not political. And the Palestinian insistence on their “right of return” to Israel is not a stumbling block to peace. )
The Jewish refugees campaign has
been referred to as a tactic intended to deflect attention from Israel’s
African refugees crisis, according to Shayna Zamkanei, or divert public opinion from Israeli “discrimination” against Sephardim, according to Sigal Samuel.
(You know, discrimination is that thing which makes every Sephardi girl
reach for her hair-straightening tongs in order to look like her
Much Arab criticism has claimed that Jews from
Arab countries were not refugees at all. If they were, they would
assert a “right of return” of their own to their countries of birth.
Since they are now in their homeland of Israel, their aspirations have
been fulfilled (Radical Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy has now jumped on this bandwagon). Blogger Petra Marquardt-Bigman calls this vain attempt to “dezionize” Israel an own goal: Ironically, Hanan Ashrawi’s logic is a ringing endorsement of Zionism for the 650,000 Jews who did resettle in Israel.
For Hussein Ibish (ably challenged by Ben Cohen), the
very fact that the Jews are not asking for a “right of return” makes
their campaign for justice “hollow.” They have no substantive claims, he
alleges – barring a desire to delegitimise the Palestinian “right of
According to Canadian refugee rights lawyer David Matas, however, you can’t both claim
to be a refugee and assert a ”right of return.” “The very assertion of a
‘right of return’ is an acknowledgement that the conditions which led
to refugee status no longer hold sway,” he told last week’s conference.
Needless to say, the conditions in almost all Arab countries remain as
hostile and unsafe for Jews – if not more so — as on the day they fled.
What the Jewish refugee issue does is to
remove a stumbling block to peace by pricking the bubble of Palestinian
exceptionalism. If one set of refugees from the conflict has been shown
to have been absorbed without fuss, what does it say about the other?
Others on the Israeli left have objected to
the linkage of the two sets of refugees. One Almog Behar, a young
Israeli-born poet, has popped up on Facebook to speak on behalf of anunheard-of committeeof
Iraqi and Kurdish Jews in Ramat Gan against “renewed Israeli government
propaganda efforts to counter Palestinian refugee rights by using the
claims of Jews who left Arab countries in the 1950s.” Clutching at
Behar’s straw, an Iraqi newspaper is now reporting that Iraqi Jews
refuse to be associated with the “file on Palestinian refugees.”(…)
Leftist blogger Kung Fu Jew charges:
I would think that Jews of Arab
origin would be outraged that their dispossession is again raised only
as a talking point against Palestinian refugees.
Well actually, Jews from Arab countries are
thrilled that their issue is finally being pushed to the fore. In much
of the sniping at Ayalon’s campaign, there is sneering contempt; not
compassion for Jewish refugees, nor appreciation for their human rights,
from people who only seem to care about Palestinian rights. Under human
rights law, Jewish refugees do have substantive claims for which there
is no statute of limitations – to remembrance, recognition and redress, a
notion that includes compensation.
The biggest obstacle to this campaign seems
not the foreign or leftist press but mind-numbing ignorance among
Israeli Jews. According to a poll released by the WJC to coincide with
the international conference, 54% of Israeli Arabs are more likely to
link Jewish refugees from Arab countries with Palestinians displaced
from Israel, compared to only 48% of Israeli Jews. Even more worrying,
96% of the Jewish population was found to have no knowledge of the
issue, compare to 89% of Israeli Arabs.