Honig: who will pay Jewish refugees?

 Egyptian Jewish refugees arriving in Piraeus en route to Israel, 1950s (photo: JDC archives)

 Sarah Honig is my favourite Jerusalem Post columnist, but her piece on John Kerry’s proposed compensation for Jewish Refugees from Arab lands is a little off-base. Yes, the proposal could be playing to the antisemitic stereotype of the Jew who would sell his soul for money – but there is no denying that compensation for Jewish refugees – by no means a new concept – is their due. I do not share Sarah’s cynicism that no-one will pay. Uncle Sam will end up paying the lion’s share – but the Arab world must dig into their pockets too.  Unless the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing show contrition, there can be no genuine reconciliation between Jews and Arabs. And an apology would cost them nothing.

The point of departure here is that Jews – be their background
Mideastern or otherwise – are greedy. If only offered enough payback,
Israel’s “hardliners” will let go of all their mistrust of the Arabs,
among whom they or their ancestors lived and from whom they had to flee
for fear of their lives.

Thus – to bait those covetous Jews –
the notion of compensating Jewish refugees from Arab lands was inserted
into Kerry’s so-called framework for a peace agreement.

first glance it looks like an unassailable proposition. If anything, it
should be cheered. Here, so it would seem, is the first tangible
acknowledgement of our long-time contentions that there had been no Arab
calamity in 1948 but in effect an exchange of populations.

Some 600,000 Arabs fled what was to become Israel – in many cases at the
prompting of their leaders. This resulted directly from a war the Arabs
had instigated to annihilate Israel. Their misfortune was that the
genocide they planned had backfired and the Jews, slated for
extermination, had the temerity to win and remain alive.

fact, these uncooperative Jews remained alive enough to absorb into
their midst over 800,000 Jews who fled Arab lands. Unlike the
Palestinians, these Jewish refugees did not start a war, did not aim to
massacre their neighbors or destroy the countries where they had
constituted the oldest continuous communities, long predating both the
Arab conquests and Islam.

These were genuine refugees rather than frustrated aggressors who had
ascribed their own homicidal fervor to their intended victims.

The so-called Palestinian refugees, furthermore, weren’t on the whole
local Arabs anyhow. Many were itinerant Arab laborers drawn to this
country by the Zionist Jews who made the desert bloom and the land
habitable. For the benefit of those who forget, this was the remote,
malaria-ridden, depopulating hinterland of the decaying Ottoman Empire.
The Jews, who longed for this forlorn place – their one and only
historic home – literally watered the wasteland with their blood, sweat
and tears.

Word then got round the entire Arab sphere that
there’s opportunity to be had here – the term used was “prosperity.”
Arabs started flocking in from Iraq, Syria, Egypt and all the way to
Libya and the Maghreb.

The British mandatory government, which callously collaborated in the
Nazi “final solution” by barring the entry to this country of desperate
Jewish refugees from Hitler’s hell, flung the gates open for Arab
economic migrants (see Joan Peters’
matchless From Time Immemorial). The UN later unabashedly defined as a
Palestinian refugee any Arab, no matter from where, who sojourned
temporarily here for two years before the 1948 Arab attack on day-old

No such benign attention was focused on Jews fleeing
Arab countries. Indeed no attention whatsoever was paid them. They, like
the displaced post-Holocaust European Jews, were looked upon as
detestable bothers whose very plight upset the global applecart and
destabilized the Mideast. Jewish tragedies evoked no compassion. It’s as
if Jews were anyhow, from the dawn of history, portable and destined to
rootlessness and wandering.

So obviously no heartstrings were
tugged by the fact that refugee Jews from Arab jurisdictions had left
far more land and way more property behind than did the diverse Arab
transients who ran away from Israel, plainly expecting the Jews to mete
out to them all that they had boastfully declared they would do to the

Arab hardship was lamented while Jewish suffering was, as
per usual, overlooked (if not actually disdained). Making matters worse
was that beleaguered newborn Israel, where there wasn’t enough of
anything and where the most basic foodstuffs were severely rationed,
welcomed the refugees as repatriated brethren.

The reverse
occurred across the armistice lines. Arab refugees were segregated in
camps, not allowed to assimilate or to economically rehabilitate. A
special UN agency – UNWRA
– was set up uniquely for them and for them alone. Their refugee status
was perpetuated over the generations. The Jews, in contrast, were never
regarded as refugees.

Israel is held accountable for the Arab
displacement, despite the fact that it implored the Arabs to stay and
not to attack. Consequently, in Kerry’s view, Israel must in the very
least compensate dispossessed Arabs. To make this palatable, it appeared
prudent to also throw in compensation for the Jews who streamed
penniless into Israel from all corners of the Mideast.

But is
it fairness Kerry is after? The truth is quickly exposed via a simple
question – who will pay? Whereas Israel must make reparations to the
Arabs (because they had failed to defeat it), who will pay the Jewish

Surely it won’t be the Palestinians – not that we
know who among them would pay even if they were trustworthy peace
partners, which they clearly are not. Will jihadist Gaza
pay? Will terror-glorifying Ramallah? Seriously? Even if all the
goodwill in the universe suddenly descended upon them, they will surely
shirk responsibility for what Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, etc. had done.

And surely Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Tripoli,
Sana’a, etc. (all in the dire throes of internecine turmoil) will
assert that they aren’t sides to any deal between Ramallah and

Technically they would be darn tootin’ right.
Washington cannot foist any sort of financial onus on them. Obama
(considering the deficits with which he has lumbered his own country)
would surely not endorse a payout to Jewish refugees from depleted
American coffers. That’s not how far his “sharing the wealth” ethos

The long and the short of it is that nobody will
compensate the Arab realm’s Jewish refugees. Obama knows it. Kerry knows
it. So why make promises that can’t possibly be kept? Well, of course
Kerry’s entire misnamed peace framework is a promise that can’t be kept.

Read article in full


  • Moreover, it is nothing new that US administrations try to influence Israeli opinion against their own government. Some high officials of the first Bush administration claim that the US toppled the Shamir govt in the 1992 elections through the instrumentality of dangling the loan guarantees before the electorate. In other words, if Shamir wins, no loan guarantees.

  • Yes, we do need a "Dictionnaire des idées reçues". But anyhow, speaking of stereotypes, here is a stereotype held by ex-prez Clinton, a "peace process" enthusiast. It may or may not please Sylvia or give her a chuckle. Here it is:

    Russian immigrants to Israel have emerged as a central obstacle to achieving a Middle East peace deal, according to former President Bill Clinton. He voiced fears that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which increasingly consists of soldiers hailing from this community, might not be fully willing to oppose Israeli settlers as a result . . .

    "An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem," Clinton said. "It's a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian."

    According to Clinton, the Russian immigrant population in Israel is the group least interested in striking a peace deal with the Palestinians.
    – – – – – – – – – –

    Clinton said this in 2010. This passage shows the anxiety that top personalities in the US foreign policy establishment have about "peace" in the ME. Kerry may be feeling desperate since so few Israelis are out marching and demonstrating for his "peace."

    Couldn't we take Kerry and Obama more seriously if we saw peaceful results from the other US interventions in the ME and central Asia, that is, Iraq & Afghanistan?
    As to the Soviet Jews, they did seem to vote for "peace" in Israeli elections in 1992 and 1999. The Labor party was able to manipulate them in those years. In fact, in 1992, when many of those Soviet immigrants were living in difficult material conditions, the US GOVT, Bush administration and the Labor party here were telling them that Israel needed US loan guarantees and that the money coming from those loans and guarantees would materially improve their situation, many of them were taken in and voted Labor. At that time, most of these people had little experience of the world outside of Russia/USSR and were rather unworldly in many ways. So you say that they voted for the carrot offered by Labor and Bush. But by now they have mostly wised up. However, it does go to prove that people can be influenced by money in the form of carrots or sticks. But not forever.

  • If you want to test Kerry's good faith in making the promise of compensation to refugees on both sides, ask him to set up a fund now that will cover compensation payments. I don't know that amount of estimated property values for either side or both sides together. But we can assume that it goes into the billions, several billion, tens of billions. Whatever. Let Kerry set up a fund a gather contributions for the fund and then you can believe him — if he does indeed set up such a fund with adequate funding.

  • I think that Barker was invoked specifically was because he was notorious at one time for ordering a boycott of Jews and Jewish businesses, places of entertainment, etc., in Israel and for saying and probably believing that the way to sway the Jews, the way to get them to do what the UK wanted was to hit them in their wallets. I believe that he and/or Ernest Bevin is quoted saying that in so many words. Likewise, Kerry is saying –according to Sarah Honig– that the way to get Jews to do what his government wants is to offer them money. So Kerry is using a carrot whereas Barker used a stick. But in both cases, according to Honig, they believe that Jews are moved by money.
    In my view, actually most people can be moved by money. But there are limits.

    Further, in my view, Kerry and Obama will make all sorts of promises to obtain the political results that they want. But their promises are not reliable, as we can see from Obama's flipping on the Iranian nuke project and on Syrian chemical weapons [with Kerry's cooperation]. So whether any substantial amount would be forthcoming from the US to pay off both Arab and Jewish refugee claimants is dubious. We are talking about billions to pay off Jews from Arab lands what their assets are worth in today's dollars, that is, what their assets were worth then in today's dollars. Does Obama really want to ask the American people to put up that kind of money? Or would the EU put up the money? Or rich Arab oil states? Or any combination of same?

    Nevertheless, the fact that Obama/Kerry recognized the existence and the problems and demands of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is good. It also legitimizes those demands in the view of world public opinion, although to me these demands were always legitimate. I would be wary of trusting the USA for any purpose.

  • I think Barker was invoked to demonstrate that antisemitic policymakers have always meddled in the Middle East – and that Sarah Honig thinks Kerry is just the latest. Plus ca change –

  • We're going to have to agree to disagree.

    Why, in your opinion, was Barker invoked in an article on compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries?

  • Sarah Honig quotes Barker that the British army "will be punishing the Jews in a way the race dislikes as much as any," in its wallet.

    I do not think that Barker was distinguishing between Ashkenazim & Sefardim or Yemenites or Bukharan Jews. In that period, from 1945 to 1948, when Barker was there and the underground struggle was going on, most Jews in the country were Ashkenazim [an estimated 3/4]. But I believe that he meant all Jews when he said that and I think that Sarah Honig knows that too. Barker simply hated Jews and you should read all of his correspondence with Katy Antonius, widow of George Antonius, to get the full flavor of his and her hatred. By the way, Katy's mother was Scottish, not Arab.
    I don't think that Sarah Honig was making insinuations of the sort that you perceive.

    Getting back to John Kerry, the man is a phoney, a great phoney. Even his military service in Vietnam was not altogether for real. He was sent to Vietnam to establish a reputation as a veteran in order to come back and build a political career as an anti-war activist. But he only served 4 months in combat, unlike most troops there who served much longer tours of duty.

    Given that Kerry is a faker, how can you trust any promise that he makes?

  • Sylvia, first of all, when I lived in the USA I spent a lot of time with people of Kerry's social ilk. So I think I can say who among them is an antisemite. Recall that Franklin Roosevelt, one of Obama's heroes, belonged to that ilk and facilitated the Shoah, as did the British. FDR's views on Jews and Asians [esp. Japanese Americans] was clearly hostile. Bataween earlier posted the research of Rafael Medoff on FDR's views of Jews and Japanese a few years ago, as well as Medoff's research on FDR's policy toward the Jews in Algeria after the American landing there, which as you may know was facilitated by a mainly Jewish underground movement that took over Algiers on the eve of the US landing, preventing a reaction by Vichy troops.
    Kerry and Obama, much like FDR during the Shoah, will tell Jews what they want to hear. But the policy is clearly Judeophobic now as in 1933-45.

  • Some might and I won't put it past them given the hair-raising stupidities I read on the net.
    But to suggest that it dictates policy to the extent of offering compensation is a wild stretch of imagination. With all their think-tanks, ambassadors, consuls, analysts they need to rely on a sixty year old stereotype?

    And the fact that Obama has met Amir Peretz several times and knows that he squarely sits on the left should say something.

    Perhaps we should build a "Dictionnaire des idées reçues" to debunk those myths.

  • Refugee Day in London report coming soon :)!
    I do believe that the Uri Avneri view, as you put it, has infected the Left. There is no reason why the Obama doves should not share this viewpoint.

  • Bataween

    Now, why would she think that the leader of the most powerful nation in the world would rely on a sixty year old stereotype invented by Uri Avneri to assess the conflict, rather than look at the political picture he has before him, if she didn't think it herself?

    Is Amir Peretz a hawk? Are the real hawks, Lieberman, Lapid, Bennet, Netanyahu et al Sephardim? Are Sephardim/Mizrahim counted at all in this government?

    Not trying to be argumentative and I do realize that she writes well and sometimes has brilliant articles, but this one, sorry to say, is offensive.

    By the way, how was Refugee Day in London? Can't wait to hear about it!

  • ""
    "In other words, if they didn't think so little of those Mizrahim, Obama wouldn't have made the offer."

    That's what she thinks Obama thinks, not necessarily what she thinks herself.

  • She is entitled to say that the money will not be forthcoming.
    She is even entitled to think Kerry is antisemite, a view which in my opinion has absolutely no basis in reality.

    She is not entitled to attribute to others her own stereotyping invoking a subtext to the offer that only she sees. It is based on her pure speculation, not on anything substantial.

    The subtext of his [Kerry]suggestion is that Jews can be bought, that they’ll ditch all that’s dear and sacred to them for a little lucre.

    Then suddenly, it becomes "doubtless" that not only Kerry, but the Obama administration thinks that way which is why they made the offer in the first place.

    Kerry is doubtless familiar with the formulaic division of this country’s Jews into two opposing camps – hawks and doves. The hardnosed hawks are invariably cast as Jews of Mideastern origin (inaccurately all lumped together as Sephardim), while the doves are just as invariably identified as Jews of European origin (popularly dubbed Ashkenazim). This one-dimensional oversimplification of Israel’s sociopolitical make-up is a favorite of the leftwing Jews who proliferate in the Obama Administration.

    In other words, if they didn't think so little of those Mizrahim, Obama wouldn't have made the offer.

    And to make sure that it is well understood that it is not because they are well considered, she resurrects once again that British officer Barker's analogy to voice what those people in the Obama administration are (in her imagination) really thinking:

    A couple of months later Barker wrote his Jerusalem-resident Arab paramour, wealthy Syrian-born socialite Katy Antonius, about what he felt toward the Jews: “Yes, I loathe the lot – whether they be Zionists or not. Why should we be afraid of saying we hate them? It’s time this damned race knew what we think of them – loathsome people.”

  • I think you misread her, Sylvia. Surely she is accusing Kerry of having an antisemitic agenda. She is saying that the division of Israel into Mizrahi hawks and Ashk doves adopted by this peace plan is a facile one. And she is voicing her cynicism that she doesn't think the money will be forthcoming, a view she is entitled to.

  • I found that article extremely offensive. Particularly the parts you didn't post.

    She uses specious analogies and argumentative pilpul to make others say what she really thinks.

    She exhumes a certain British officer during the British mandate to say that those "Mizrahim" might be greedy enough to exchange their political loyalties for a promise of money, which they will never get anyway.

    She invokes a certain stereotype that according to her the Obama administration already knows, to the effect that Ashkenazis are doves and we are hawks, to tell us that their politics are widely known and they are hawkish – read: rightwing. Thus spreading a stereotype that has no hold in reality.

    Sorry, but I am going to say outloud what everyone who has read that long, rambling article really thinks: would she write that regarding compensation from Germany?

    You name it, whatever the issue, call it Spain, Portugal or refugees, "they"'ll gang up on it to debase, degrade, mock, or insinuate the worst.

  • who will pay? The US Govt will find some way to got out of what may now seem to be a commitment made by Kerry or earlier by Clinton. Think of how the US has violated many commitments made to Israel, such as the Bush letter to Sharon of 2004 which was disavowed by obama. Think of why Jonathan Pollard is still in jail. Can the State Dept or obama be trusted?

    The US Govt wastes billions without a regret, without concern or care. But to pay Jews?

  • Of course no one will. But we should focus on growing a thick skin and just proceeding with it in an effort to highlight the evil and the hypocrisy of the Arabs and the EU generally. Use it as a stumbling block and bang the point home as THE SOLE ISSUE stopping progress. Don't even respond to anything else from the powers that be until they address this thing. The EU and UN's response would at least be entertaining.



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