Jewish refugees in an Israeli transit camp or ma’abara
We have Danny Ayalon and the current Israeli government to thank for putting Jewish refugees from Arab countries firmly on the international agenda, argues Michelle Huberman of Harif in the Jerusalem Post.
If you have been following the work of my organisation
Harif, (representing Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the UK) you
will know that campaigning for Jewish Refugees from Arab countries has, until last month, been an uphill
However,the issue has moved to the mainstream since the “Justice for Jewish
Refugees from Arab Countries conference last monthin Jerusalem and the meetingat the UN building in New York telling their untold story, and featuring leading advocates
Alan Dershowitz and Irwin Cotler.
years after the creation of the State of Israel in what is often referred to as the forgotten exodus, 850,000 Jews were forced to leave Arab countries as
refugees, leaving their property behind. Over 600,000 went to Israel and until
the Russia aliyah of the 1990’s the largest communities in Israel were
Moroccan and Iraqi. The rest went mostly to France, Canada, the Americas, Australia and the UK.
over half of the Israeli population is
made up of Jews from Arab and Muslim
countries. The big question everyone is asking is why are recognition and redress being discussed now? Why didn’t previous
Israeli governments bring the issue to the UN years ago?
the issue is hardly known. Many of the older generation who have traumatic
memories of witnessing murders, torture and fleeing or being expelled from with
only a suitcase from Arab countries have found the experiences too painful to
retell to their children and grandchildren.
Other reasons why the Israeli government did not tell the
Jewish refugee story were the Eurocentricism of the Israeli establishment, the
desire to integrate the refugees as immigrants returning to their ancestral
homeland, and the belief, especially on the Left during the Oslo years, that the
Jewish refugees were a ‘stumbling block’
The issue of
refugee rights is now a hot topic with the national and international media.
Arab spokesmen and media have been thrown onto the back foot.
Hardly a day goes by without an opinion piece in Haaretz, criticising
the Israeli government’s diplomatic
stance on Jewish refugees only
changed since the Yisrael Beytenu party joined the coalition government in 2009
on a platform of rights-based diplomacy.
on a US Congressional resolution demanding parity for Jewish and Palestinian
refugees in 2008 and a 2010 Knesset law making compensation for Jewish refugees
a condition of a peace settlement, the initiative to make Jewish refugees a policy issue came from Deputy Foreign
Minister Danny Ayalon, the son of an Algerian refugee father.
In 2010 he penned
an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post
headlined “I Am A Refugee“. That
was followed with international op-eds and an information video ‘The Truth about Refugees’that has already had over a million views. Danny Ayalon was
the driving force behind last month’s conference and
At the same time the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a
Facebook page called ‘I am a refugee’ :
any refugee could upload his or her story online, giving the lie to allegations that Jews left Arab countries of
their own free will.
the Jerusalem conference as “historic”, Danny Ayalon said: “we will work on achieving
justice to Jewish refugees, who were expelled and tortured, and their rights
were taken away”. The conference produced a declaration,
pledging the Israeli government to include the history of Jews from the Middle
East and North Africa in the school curriculum, to build a museum commemorating
their rich heritage, and to add a memorial day to the calendar.
Israel, the lack of elementary knowledge, along with many of the older
generation withholding their stories, has led to naive young Israelis ignoring their own rights, while peddling
of Israel’s enemies.
is not over, it is only just beginning. and we are waiting to announce the date
for a Jewish Refugee day to be inserted into the Jewish calendar. The real
challenge is to produce an education programme not only for Israeli schools,
but also to teach Jews in the Diaspora the history of the Jews from Arab
We have Danny
Ayalon and the current government
to thank for putting this issue firmly
on the international agenda. The forgotten refugees are forgotten no more.