Israel’s state comptroller Joseph Shapira: damning report
On 17 February, Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, will be holding a special event to mark the first Jewish Refugee Day. Writing in the Jewish Chronicle Lyn Julius explains why such a Day matters:
Did you know 2014 has been proclaimed the Year of Solidarity with the
Palestinian People? Eyes glaze at yet another demonstration of
ingrained UN bias. The UN has passed more than 100 resolutions in
support of Palestinian refugees. Not one resolution mentions a greater
number of Jewish refugees who fled Arab countries at around the same
That’s one good reason why my organisation, Harif, will be marking
Jewish Refugee Day, in solidarity with 870,000 refugees driven out of
A bill designating a special Day in the calendar has just passed its
first reading in Israel’s Knesset. The Knesset is wavering over the date
— will it be February 17, the date in 1948 when the Arab League drafted
restrictions on the “Jewish minority of Palestine” — the lives,
property and legal status of their Jewish citizens? Or will it be
November 30, the date in 1947 when riots began to break out against Jews
in Aden, Syria and Bahrain in protest at the UN Partition Plan?
Harif is plumping for February 17. Israel’s celebrity storyteller
Yossi Alfi, the voice of a government campaign to document stories and
claims from Mizrachi Jews, will be the star at our commemoration of
Jewish Refugee Day.
Like Holocaust Memorial Day, Jewish Refugee Day will provide a focus,
and a corrective. Jewish children learn about the Kishinev pogrom, but
how many have heard of the Farhud in Iraq? Official ceremonies, school
projects, TV programmes and events in Israel and worldwide would spread
awareness not just of Oriental Jewry’s history and exodus but their
rich, pre-Islamic culture and heritage.
Recently, senior US envoy Martin Indyk has told US Jewish leaders
that Secretary of State John Kerry is considering including in his
framework peace agreement, compensation for the thousands of Jews forced
to abandon Arab lands.
After decades of neglect by successive Israeli governments, the
Jewish refugee issue is emerging like a mole blinking into the sunlight.
Critics say that the US is trying to “buy off” the most recalcitrant
sector of the Israeli electorate, the right-leaning Mizrachim, in return
for far-reaching territorial concessions, but MK Shimon Ohayon, who
proposed the Knesset bill, has welcomed the prospective compensation
clause as “a step in the right direction”.
However, there is a large fly in the ointment — Israel’s own chief
negotiator, Tzipi Livni. Despite a 2010 Knesset law requiring Jewish
refugees to be on the peace agenda, Livni has opposed raising the very
question, claiming there is “no connection” between Jewish and
History has shown otherwise. The Palestinian leadership incited
anti-Jewish hatred in the Arab world well before Israel’s creation, and
dragged the Arab League into war against the newborn state.
Another blow came last week in a damning report by Israel’s state
comptroller, Joseph Shapira. It blasts the Israeli government’s
half-hearted and under-resourced approach to collecting claims from
ageing Jewish refugees before they die, and its failure to computerise
14,000 old claims. Haaretz reported: “Even if peace were to break out
tomorrow, Israel would be hard-pressed to present a solid claim…”
While the Israeli government bumbles, the diaspora is making the
running on the Jewish refugee issue. Recognition is more important than
compensation – and the UK is blazing the trail with Jewish Refugee Day.